By Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – A diverse group of Oklahomans have been named 2014 Human Rights Awards winners. Recognition for each came on Human Rights Day — Wednesday, December 10th — at a ceremony held in the House Chamber at the state Capitol.
The chairman of the Alliance that sponsored the event is Wallace Collins, also chairman of the state Democratic Party.
Organizational efforts for the event were led by Wilfredo Santos Rivera, a former member of the Oklahoma City School Board.
The best known honorees are Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange, attorney Robert D. Lemon, Jeff Hamilton and a gay couple from Tulsa – Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin — who fought in court to gain a marriage license.
LaGrange is chief judge of the U.S. trial court for Oklahoma’s western district. Lemon is a beloved Oklahoma City philanthropist known, in the words of event organizers, for his belief that “all people are entitled to both equal protections under the law and universal respect as children of God particularly regarding sexual orientation.” Hamilton is a community leader presently serving as Oklahoma’s Legislative Chair for the Interfaith Alliance Foundation, where he was President 2004-12. Hamilton also serves on a state Health Department advisory board for Injury Prevention Services.
Several others were named Human Rights Award winners, including Ahiezer Black, who runs the “JOY” Free Resources Clinic, networking with the Diabetes Association and other groups, in the words of those who organized the recent event, “to improve the life condition of those in need but with little, if any, economic or other resources.” Dr. William R. Carmack, chairman emeritus at OU’s Communications Department and a member of the state’s Higher Education Hall of Fame, was honored for his life’s work. A faculty member in Norman since 1958, Carmack helped establish the Southwest Center for Human Relations Studies.
Another honoree was Mohan Chandran, co-director (with Rev. Paul Zahler) of the National Institute on Developmental Delays. Chandran has worked on practical medical strategies for vulnerable persons around the world, including in the United States, India and Mexico. His advocacy, Santos Rivera said, “continues to help make breakthroughs for this vulnerable and under-served community.”
Sonya Martinez of Yukon was also praised at the event. She is a founder of The Beautiful Dream Society (BDS), established in 2011, and serves as the group’s Africa Director. Martinez has led mission trips all over this hemisphere and in Africa.
Her heart is for survivors of human trafficking. She participates in the work of the bi-partisan Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. She played a lead role in establishment of the first certified shelter for victims of trafficking in Oklahoma City.
Santos Rivera nominated a few of the 2014 honorees, including Christina Mizirl, a lawyer known for her work for immigrants, both documented and undocumented. Concerning the activist attorney, Santos Rivera commented, “Christina has provided immigrants her valuable services, even when they did not have the means of paying for her representation. As an advocate of human and civil rights, she represents the first line of defense.
Local journalist Carlos Ortiz, Chief Editor of ‘El Nacional’ newspaper in Oklahoma City, is host of a weekly television program called “Cada Semana.” His award came for news reports and commentaries about undocumented and other immigrants.
Akash Patel, another honoree, was designated for his work as “an advocate for people without a voice, raising awareness of critical issues for young undocumented immigrants.” Patel is founder of a non-profit organization supporting undocumented immigrants, known as the Aspiring Americans Initiative.
Santiaga Quiñónez won the Human Rights award for her life’s work dedicated “to helping men and women in prison.” She visits prisoners and corresponds with them, work organizers of the recognition described “very large, but few people know.” For her work helping the local Hispanic community, Dr. Claudia Rossavik was another award winner. Adam Soltani, executive director of CAIR Oklahoma, was lifted up for his work on behalf of the Sooner State’s Muslim community. Carlos Tello was honored for his mural, “Beyond the Centennial,” and as “the first Hispanic to have a work of art displayed so prominently in our state capitol.”
Annual recognition of Oklahoma’s human rights activists began in the 1960s and for many years functioned through the state Human Rights Commission, an agency abolished a few years ago.
In recent years, a coalition of groups has co-sponsored efforts to continue annual recognition of human rights leaders in the state.
The state chapter of the United Nations Association played a leading role in this year’s event. Following the awards ceremony, a luncheon was held in the Fourth Floor Rotunda area at the Capitol.