March 4, 2024
Annapolis, US 52 F

25 To Be Honored At Fannie Lou Hamer Awards This Weekend

Chosen from across Anne Arundel County, 25 trailblazing women will be honored during the 27th annual Fannie Lou Hamer Awards Reception, held from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2, at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. Known for impacting their community — whether through social justice or advocacy — each woman has made a lasting mark on Anne Arundel County. This year’s honorees — Phyllis “Tee” Adams, Angelia Brown, Monique Brown, Lynda Davis, Claudia DeGrate, Mary Grace Gallagher, Glenda Gathers, Erica Griswold, De Lorma “Dee” Goodwyn, Denise Henderson Hector, Laticia Hicks, Delegate Dana Jones, Gabrielle Martinez, Heidi May, Dr. Tawana R. Offer, Councilwoman Lisa Rodvien, The Honorable Dana Z. Schallheim, Mitchelle Stephenson, Alderwoman Eleanor Tierney, Dr. Joanna Tobin, Darla Watts, Jacqueline V. Wells, Marion “Murnie” Wenn, Ethel Leon Wirth, and Jane Zanger — join the ranks of more than 100 notable women, including former Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Administrative Law Judge Tracey Warren Parker, and former Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer, who were nominated in years past.

Mayor Gavin Buckley, County Executive Steuart Pittman, and Jackie Coleman, executive director of the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, will provide remarks during the event. The evening will also feature a one-woman performance of “The Fannie Lou Hamer Story,” written and performed by Mzuri Moyo Aimbaye, an award-winning playwright, actress, and internationally acclaimed vocalist. A reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres will follow the program. The event is sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Anne Arundel County. For more information and to purchase tickets ($50)  go to  More details at 443-871-5656 or 301-538-6353.

“The Fannie Lou Hamer Story” received Best Actor, Best Play, and Best Producer during the 2015 Atlanta Black Theater Festival and the Best Solo Performance for the 2002 Audelco Viv Award. Hamer’s courage and compassion inspired Aimbaye to write the one-woman play, which follows Hamer’s rise from Jim Crow’s Mississippi to the halls of Congress as a powerful voice in the 1964 voter’s rights movement. She has performed this play for more than two decades. Aimbaye has also performed in small productions in the New York/New Jersey area and was cast in the role of Lucy for the first Black African American film depicting a slave revolt, “SANKOFA,” which was recently re-released on Netflix.

Fannie Lou Hamer, 1917-1977, was an American voting rights activist, civil rights leader, and philanthropist. The awards that bear her name recognize women from various racial backgrounds who, while not necessarily household names, have excelled in their chosen fields while working diligently to improve civil and human rights in the region. In the spirit of Hamer, honoree Monique Brown introduces girls to the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields as a facilitator with Girls Who Code. Honoree Alderwoman Eleanor Tierney uses her platform on the Annapolis City Council to help rebuild previously destroyed areas of the Annapolis community. Honoree Darla Watts assisted legendary civil rights attorney Alan Hilliard Legum win a high-profile civil right case in Annapolis.

“We congratulate all of the recipients of the Fannie Lou Hamer Awards, whose commitment to social justice is seen in the work they do daily,” said Carl Snowden, chair of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee. “These women run the gamut. They are legislators, activists, and they are committed to making America better and not bitter.”

Phyllis “Tee” Adams, of Annapolis is passionate about working with youth and young adults. Adams has organized events for local youth, including ski trips, gospel skates, summer pool parties, dances, holiday parties, community fundraisers, talent shows, and Gospel Go Go Nights. She assisted in organizing the first Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Annapolis and, most recently, was the founder of the successful Annapolis Juneteenth Gala, Parade, and Festival. Inspired by her son’s trials and untimely death, Adams started the business Light It Up with Triple-A. In her son’s memory, the business uses donations to give back to others in the community.

Angelina Brown, of Severn, is a native of Anne Arundel County and a graduate of Annapolis High School. She worked as a union representative for the Industrial, Technical, and Professional Employees Division of the National Maritime Union in Washington, DC. Brown later became the owner and operator of the Reliable Taxi Cab Company in Annapolis. She enjoys working with community seniors and helps deliver their food from local food banks. She also mentors young single mothers in the community. Brown is a board member of the Wiley H. Bates Legacy Center. As a member of the Caucus of African American Leaders, she attends monthly meetings and has participated in several protests for racial justice.

Monique Brown, of Severn shares her love for technology with young girls to help foster their interest in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Brown was a facilitator with the Girls Who Code program, where she taught computer programming and software development after school at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women. She works with several other organizations in Anne Arundel County, including Happy Helpers for the Homeless, a nonprofit that provides homeless and poverty-stricken families with food, toiletries, and clothing. The organization also works with the Anne Arundel County Literacy Council to tutor men and women interested in the armed services. Brown is also an officer in the Anne Arundel County NAACP and a board member of Alkebulan Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to providing Afro-centric educational opportunities to families.

Lynda Davis of Lithicum is an activist involved in anti-racism, anti-oppression, and human rights work since 2014. She is a member of the Anne Arundel County Branch of the NAACP, Anne Arundel County Coalition for Police Accountability, Caucus of African American Leaders, Community Actively Seeking Transparency, Coming to the Table, Connecting the Dots, Northern Arundel Cultural Preservation Society, and Showing Up for Racial Justice Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. Each week, Davis curates the “Racial Justice Listserv Mid-Atlantic Region,” a comprehensive listing of events and workshops for people interested in the multiracial movement for human rights.

Claudia DeGrate, of Annapolis is a member of the Caucus of African American Leaders and a member of First Baptist Church of Annapolis. While a student at Anne Arundel Community College, DeGrate was one of the founding members of Ujima, a student organization that brought a racial employment discrimination complaint against the community college, which ultimately led to hiring more African American faculty members. DeGrate also volunteers to work with senior citizens in the Annapolis area.

Mary Grace Gallagher of Annapolis has worked for three decades to tell the stories of people in the Annapolis community. Gallagher has written numerous award-winning local, daily newspaper, and magazine features and writes a twice-monthly column in the Annapolis Capital newspaper focused on building bridges in racially and socioeconomically divided neighborhoods. Through Gallagher’s business, A Novel Life: Collaborative Biographies, she has written and published two dozen books that reflect each client’s lifetime journey. Gallagher is proud of the stories she has written that have elevated and amplified the lives and work of people in Anne Arundel County’s historically underrepresented communities.

Glenda Gathers of Severn is a community activist and leader. Over the past several decades, Gathers engaged community members, built relationships with elected officials, and partnered with Van Bokkelen Elementary School and Anne Arundel County police to provide activities for area youth. Working on a tight budget, she fundraised to take youth on field trips, provide mentorship, and provide them with activities such as banquets, sports events, summer camps, and even a trip to a dude ranch. After 30 years of advocacy, helped develop the Severn Center, which is currently under construction and will open in March 2023. The facility includes a senior center, a Boys and Girls Club, and a community room. Due to opening just after Gather’s 80th birthday, this facility is a tribute to her years of community work. The Severn Center will act as a safe haven and provide activities for future generations of community members.

Erica Griswold of Annapolis was born and raised in the city and deeply connected to the community. Griswold is the Democratic nominee for the Register of Wills in Anne Arundel County. She is an advocate and facilitator who prioritizes equity and inclusion. Through her experiences abroad, in the medical field, and as an Annapolis community resource coordinator, Griswold is passionate about serving others. She specializes in leading teams and improving programmatic outcomes.

De Lorma “Dee” Goodwyn of Severn has been involved in numerous volunteer efforts for the past 30 years. She has worked closely with the Anne Arundel County Executive’s Office to implement the annual “Few of the Many” and “Women’s History/Michelle Obama” awards programs. Goodwyn helped ensure the Guardians of the First Amendment Memorial was built in time to celebrate the anniversary of staff deaths at The Capital newspaper. She worked with Statewide Equity members to initiate the new Emmett Till alert system, which alerts Maryland African American leaders when a racial incident has occurred. Goodwyn helped organize the Freedom Summer Bus Ride to protest police brutality in Ocean City, Md. For the past three years, she has participated in weekly Equity in the Media and Statewide Equity meetings to change how the media portrays the non-white community. Currently, Goodwyn helps plan, coordinate, and organize the Caucus of African Leaders’ monthly meetings.

Denise Henderson Hector of Annapolis is a licensed mortician with more than 47 years of experience. Following in the footsteps of her late grandfather, J.B. Johnson, Hector graduated with her Associate of Arts in Mortuary Science. In 1975, she became the youngest female licensed funeral director and embalmer in the State of Maryland and began her career with the historic William Reese and Sons Mortuary. Hector provides compassionate care and services to clients and has developed a relationship with the many families in the community. She is a member of the First Baptist Church of Annapolis, where she served as a trustee, and is a current member of the Senior Usher Board. She is also a member of the Maryland State Funeral Directors Association and the Three Rivers Bowling Club.

Laticia Hicks of Annapolis is a mentor coordinator for a nonprofit organization, a volunteer community organizer, and a retired public servant with more than 26 years of federal law enforcement experience. Her passion for education and social and racial justice led her to volunteer in various roles in the community. Hicks served as the Education Chairperson for the Anne Arundel County Branch of the NAACP. She currently serves as the Annapolis Secondary cluster representative on the Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) Citizen Advisory Committee. She is the vice president of the Annapolis High School PTSA, the D7 Representative for the Anne Arundel County Democratic Women’s Club, and a USATF Level 1 youth track and field coach. She also serves on the AACPS Equity Advisory Committee and the Global Community Citizenship Advisory group. In 2020, she co-founded the Parental Alliance for Student Safety, a public school advocacy group with more than 3,400 members focused on the safety, equity, and well-being of the AACPS community.

Delegate Dana Jones of Annapolis has served as a member of the House of Delegates since 2020, where she represents District 30A in the Maryland General Assembly. Jones currently serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, where she is a member of the Election Law and Education Subcommittees. In her first year in office, Jones passed four bills through the House, two of which were signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan and have helped more than 1,000 constituents receive unemployment benefits during the pandemic. In her first legislative session, Jones worked with other Delegation members, in coordination with the Governor’s Office, to help secure more than $10 million in funding for her district. This past Session, Jones, and her colleagues brought in nearly $70 million for more than two dozen projects throughout the district. She co-sponsored 33 pieces of legislation that included $300 million in tax cuts. She passed six bills to support small businesses, make voting more accessible, and help protect Anne Arundel County students’ data and privacy. Jones helped pass landmark legislation providing $2 billion in tax relief for retirees.

Gabrielle Martinez of Glen Burnie is a graduate of Howard University, where she supported college and local initiatives. Martinez began her career in youth program development as a volunteer coordinator for Big Brother Big Sister and later worked with the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital-Young Leaders Program as a Program Manager. She also worked for various offices, including the office of the Mayor of Washington, D.C., and the Obama for America 2012 Campaign. After graduation, Martinez joined Planned Parenthood Metro Washington’s Public Affairs Department. In 2015 she created the Formation Conference, a convention for the empowerment of Black Girls. In 2018, Martinez helped found Teach Reach Inspire Build and Empower Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to the betterment of Black girls.

Heidi May of Edgewater volunteers across the Anne Arundel County community. She has worked with food pantries and soup kitchens, read to children in hospitals and clinics in underserved areas, delivered groceries to home-bound seniors, organized school food drives, facilitated book/game drives for adults with developmental disabilities, walked dogs and fed animals in shelters, and more. May’s volunteer work eventually brought her to the Office of the County Executive, where she served as the first point of contact for all visitors to the County Executive’s Office. There, she also served on the Diversity Council for two years. May is now the executive assistant to the Director of Community Engagement and Constituent Services.

Dr. Tawana R. Offer of Shady Side is an educational administrator, program developer, and counselor. Offer currently coordinates the Maryland General Assembly Page Program, where she trains and supervises selected Maryland high school seniors learning about the state legislative processes. Formerly, Offer served as the director of Student Services for the Annapolis/Southern Maryland Campus of Sojourner Douglass College for 15 years. She guided adult learners through the higher education process. She also worked as a resource coordinator for the Clay Street Family Resource Center, where she helped families access financial, housing, and educational resources. In her Shady Side community, Offer has served as a financial auditor for the community association and as a member of the association’s activities and constitution committees.

Councilwoman Lisa Rodvien of Annapolis is the current chair and District 6 representative for the Anne Arundel County Council. She is a public school teacher at Arundel Middle School in Odenton. Before beginning her career in education, Rodvien began her career as an attorney, supporting a law firm that helped state education agencies implement the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. Eventually, she decided to work directly with young people and transitioned to a career in education.

The Honorable Dana Z. Schallheim of Severna Park was elected to represent Councilman District 5 on the Board of Education of Anne Arundel County in November 2018 for a six-year term. She is currently an at-home parent and volunteers regularly at her daughter’s school and for various nonprofit organizations and causes. Highlights of her 36-year volunteer career include being named the ACLU of Mississippi’s Volunteer of the Year and leading a campaign through the Children’s Organ Transplant Association that raised $80,000 to help cover medical costs for a toddler who needed a kidney transplant. Schallheim currently serves as chair of the Board’s Budget and Scholarship committees.

Mitchelle Stephenson of Edgewater is the public information officer for the City of Annapolis, where she communicates vital information to city residents, businesses, and visitors. For over two decades, Stephenson wrote for various newspapers and worked as a columnist and staff writer for The Capital. She covered stories about Rosenwald Schools in Anne Arundel County, the Galesville Hot Sox, and even a Sunday cover story about a Shady Side family that received indoor plumbing for the first time. Stephenson’s guiding philosophy as a writer is to act as an accurate storyteller: use language that is clear and approachable, be respectful of the story’s subjects and work to find a narrative that helps people connect to the subject matter — be that a news story about a house fire, the City’s acquisition of a historic property, or an initiative that is important to the Mayor.

Alderwoman Eleanor Tierney of Annapolis is currently serving her second term on the Annapolis City Council. Tierney is a member of the Caucus of African American Leaders. Her volunteer efforts work to restore original Annapolis residents who have been displaced due to the changing socioeconomics in the area. She sponsored and helped pass the R-21a City Council Resolution, which supports the Equal Justice Initiative. Tierney also helped pass O-13-21, which repealed the Annapolis City Code provisions relating to urban renewal projects. This effort helped support areas with significant cultural heritage, which had been destroyed while trying to expand and update older areas of the community. Tierney continues to work towards her goal of bringing original Annapolis residents back to the downtown area by enabling residential use above storefronts on Main Street.

Dr. Joanna Tobin, of Annapolis is the president of Anne Arundel County Board of Education, representing District 6. She is an educator with a background in education management, governance, and oversight. Tobin taught undergraduates at Georgetown University when she was a doctoral candidate and later served as a member of the St. John’s College faculty. Now, in addition to her work as a member of the Board of Education, she works as a consultant, moderating leadership seminars for the Aspen Institute and chairing accreditation site visit teams evaluating public charter networks around the country. She has also served as the chair of the board of a local private school. Tobin attends Annapolis Friends Meeting, where she was the co-chair of the Children’s Religious Education Committee for several years.

Darla Watts of Edgewater is a senior paralegal in Annapolis with more than four decades of experience specializing in petrochemicals, medical malpractice, domestic, and general practice law. Over the years, Watts helped secure the rights of many of her clients, and she had the privilege of working alongside the legendary civil rights attorney Alan Hilliard Legum. One of their most high-profile civil rights cases involved Gregory Lawrence, who the State of Maryland Aviation Administration had terminated. Legum and Watts sued the State and won back Lawrence’s job. Lawrence became the first African American Deputy Fire Chief at the Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington Fire Department.

Jacqueline V. Wells of Annapolis works for the Anne Arundel County Public School System and the Department of Social Services/Child Protective Services Unit. Wells is an active volunteer in the Anne Arundel community. She is the president of the Resident Council for her neighborhood, where, among other issues, she worked with the Let’s Talk Social Youth Group and worked with the Ward One Residents Association. Wells is currently chairperson of the Board of Commissioners of the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis, where she is involved with policy implementation and provides public housing operations oversight.

Marion “Murnie” Wenn of Annapolis is an active member of the St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, where she has served as a youth and young adult ministry leader, in the church’s vestry, and as a chair and co-chair for various church committees. Outside the church, Wenn is a member of the Caucus of African American Leaders. Her career in public safety spanned more than 30 years, beginning with the Maryland Parole Commission and ending with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, where she retired as a captain in 2013. Part of Wenn’s commitment to community service involves volunteerism abroad: she has traveled to Cuba, Ghana, Haiti, and Honduras. Wenn works with local youth and young adults, planning activities and events that expose young people to new opportunities.

Ethel Leon Wirth of Annapolis is a Mexican immigrant who has lived in Annapolis since she was 19. Wirth has helped organize several grassroots efforts that have brought food and other necessities to the community. When she saw the lack of a social media presence for the Latino community in the Annapolis area, Wirth started the Facebook group “Se Fuerte Annapolis.” This community group of more than 8,000 members was formed in April 2020 to help area Latino families connect. Through this group, members have been able to help each other by sharing resources, including employment, housing, and access to food, and helping ensure basic needs were met during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wirth is also passionate about education. She advocates for and encourages adults and youth in the community. She is a steadfast defender of the rights of the Annapolis community, with a commitment to serving those in need.

Jane Zanger of Annapolis has been a Connecting the Dots – Anne Arundel County member since 2017. In that time, she has worked with the Dots team on several local events, including installing the EJI historical markers on Calvert Street and at the Severna Park Library to memorialize lynching victims in the county. Zanger has been a teacher for 35 years and is currently a middle school teacher at the Key School in Annapolis. During her time at Key, she has led humanities teachers in transforming the curriculum to reflect the complex and truthful history of racism and systemic oppression in the United States and globally. Zanger also works with a student group to foster diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and belonging in the student body. She hopes that one day, Key School can serve as a model for other educational institutions, including the Anne Arundel County Public School system.

A committee of community residents chooses outstanding women each year from a list of nominees who live and/or work in Anne Arundel County. Anne Arundel is the only jurisdiction in the State of Maryland to celebrate Hamer’s memory with awards of this nature.

“We are living right now in a world that is fighting for change on many levels, from social unrest in our cities to expansive international crises,” said former US Senator Barbara Mikulski, a 2009 Hamer honoree. “And while the news may seem grim, there is an inspiration worldwide as people come together to bring about peaceful change.”

Fannie Lou Hamer was the youngest of 20 children born to Mississippi sharecropper parents. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and later became the vice-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, attending the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J., in that capacity.

Hamer’s plainspoken manner and fervent belief in the Biblical righteousness of her cause gained her a reputation as an electrifying speaker. She ran for Congress in 1964 and 1965. She was seated as a member of Mississippi’s official delegation to the Democratic National Convention of 1968, where she was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War.

Hamer worked on other projects, including grassroots-level Head Start programs, the Freedom Farm Cooperative in Sunflower County, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign.

Hamer died at the age of 57. Her tombstone is engraved with one of her famous quotes, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

The Annapolis-based Martin Luther King Jr. Committee Inc., founded in 1988, hosts two major events each year: The first is the annual Fannie Lou Hamer Reception in October, honoring women of different racial backgrounds who have contributed to the community. The second event is the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner held in January to honor those local citizens whose leadership in civil rights has helped keep Dr. King’s legacy alive. The proceeds from these events are being used to pay off the debt incurred by building the Civil Rights Foot Soldiers Memorial.

The MLK Jr. Committee has successfully placed three memorials to the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Anne Arundel County, funded by private donations. A bronze statue of King was erected at the Anne Arundel Community College in 2006 after the Committee raised more than $250,000. In 2011, the Committee dedicated a plaque and garden tribute to Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, at Sojourner Douglass College in Edgewater, Md. In 2013, the Committee erected a monument in Annapolis to the Civil Rights Foot Soldiers who marched in the famous 1963 “I have a dream” civil rights march on Washington.

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