By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – The public is invited to attend the presentation of the 2017 Human Rights Awards on Saturday, December 9, in the 4th Floor House Chamber of the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. The program will take place from 10 a.m. to noon. The event is free.
The Oklahoma Human Rights Awards are co-sponsored by the Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Alliance (OKUHRA), and the United Nations Association Oklahoma City Chapter (UNA-OKC).
The annual Human Rights Awards ceremony is held in conjunction with International Human Rights Day which is recognized on Dec. 10 each year.
The event will be led by Wilfredo Rivera the OKUHRA chair. The awards will be presented by Priya Desai, UNA-OKC director of advocacy.
Following the ceremony, a complementary Awards Luncheon, sponsored by UNA-OKC, will be held at Centro De Celebracion, 4725 NW 10th Street.
The 2017 Human Rights Awards honorees are: Victor Acosta, Narcisco Arguelles, Fannie Bates, Dr. Mari Fagin, Rena Guay, David Hill, Veronica Laizure, Candace Liger, Mariana Llanos, Anne Murray, and Peter Schaffer. In addition, Michael Barlow and Lydia Polley will be recognized posthumously.
Born in Mexico, Victor Acosta is a graphic designer for El Nacional newspaper. Committed to the Hispanic community, he is involved with organizations such as Dream Act Oklahoma and the World Experiences Foundation.
Narcisco Argüelles’ life is rooted in education and service. With time spent balancing community work, teaching art, and an art career, he has played a significant role in the development of Oklahoma’s first Latino Cultural Center, to be revealed later this year. He currently serves as the Executive Director of the non-profit group Inclusion in Art whose mission is to advance racial and cultural diversity.
Michael Barlow (Nov. 2, 1944 – Nov. 28, 2015) was a passionate teacher who often performed workshops and seminars for school administrators. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Educator’s Hall of Fame in 2010. Many knew him as an ardent supporter of the State of Israel, a voice for the Oklahoma City Jewish Community, a negotiator and education consultant, a teacher, union leader, an improv comic, a snow camper, cross country skier, world traveler and the guy with the “Moses beard.”
Rivera remembers Barlow as a “mover and a shaker for labor and for education.” “We miss him dearly,” he added.
Fannie Bates became aware of discrimination against minorities as a child. At 18, attending Eastern Oklahoma State College, she founded the school’s first multi-racial co-ed student-led organization. In 1971 she joined the NAACP, and has served on its Oklahoma City, Oklahoma State and Regional Executive Boards. She has also worked with the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes and other indigenous organizations and as an elementary and special education teacher.
Dr. Mari Fagin‘s life’s work has included positions as a college professor, director of outpatient services of a large mental health center, and a private practice as a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marital and Family Therapist. She is a member of Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City and is committed to the encouragement and support of interfaith relationships and activities. She is a board member of the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma and a former chairman of the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission.
A longtime activist, Rena Guay has worked to combat sexism, poverty, racism, homophobia, AIDS, homelessness, and war, seeking a unified vision of peace, justice and community. Her photographs provide a visual record of Oklahoma City’s progressive movement and she has used her technology skills to further her causes through websites, podcasts and on social media. She serves as chair of Amnesty OKC and is the state death penalty abolition coordinator for Amnesty USA.
David Hill is a lifelong activist with the American Indian Movement. He currently serves as national advisor on the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee. He has organized demonstrations to raise awareness of the unjust incarceration of native people through violations of the U.S. Constitution, as in the Peltier case. Hill has spoken on college campuses and to civic organizations across the country, as well as in France and Canada, on this issue.
Attorney Veronica Laizure is the Civil Rights Director for the Council on American Islamic Relations Oklahoma Chapter (CAIR-OK). She was nominated by the organization’s executive director, Adam Soltani who said, “Veronica Laizure is defining what it means to protect the human rights for one of Oklahoma’s most vulnerable communities: the Oklahoma Muslim Community.”
In addition to her work for CAIR-OK, Laizure’s commentary on the state of civil rights in Oklahoma has been published in dozens of media outlets. She has been asked to speak on the topic at organizations including the Oklahoma Department of Education, the John Hope Franklin Symposium, the Arkansas Fair Housing Commission and many interfaith programs.
Candace Liger is the CEO of the Liger Company, which focuses on art, activism, and wellness. Her current positions include executive advisory officer for the National Organization of Women OKC, certified health and wellness expert through her company #GoodFunk HeadQuarters, and an award-winning performance and spoken word artist. She is the founder of the Abstract Ebon Collective, a progressive media and event company that emphasizes creativity and social consciousness.
“Candice has extensive community organizational skills especially when it comes to marginalized communities such as women, incarcerated people and people of color,” said Desai.
Marina Llanos is a Peruvian born writer of children’s literature, short stories, and poems. Now living in Oklahoma, Mariana has published 8 children’s books, and her short stories and poems have appeared in numerous publications. Her next book “Luca’s Bridge” will be release by Penny Candy Books in May of 2018. Mariana visits schools in person and around the world via Skype to promote her love for reading. In 2016, she was recognized as the Most Outstanding Literature Artist by the Hispanic Arts Council of Oklahoma. In September of this year she received the Global Citizen Award in Arts from the World Experiences Foundation.
Originally from Massachusetts, Anne Murray has spent her life as an active advocate for numerous human rights and social justice issues. She has been a volunteer at the Oklahoma City Peace House since 1985, working on its Peace Strategy Newspaper, helping to organize public events, speakers and films, and serving as its volunteer financial accountant. She has served as president-elect, president, and past-president of the First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City, and now serves as the Chair of their Social Justice Committee. Anne is a member of Moms Demand Action for Common Sense Gun Control and advocates against capital punishment as a board member of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Lydia Gill-Polley (July 18, 1931 – Sept. 24, 2017) was a lifelong advocate of “peace and justice for all.” An adult educator by profession, Polley conducted training events nationwide and in Costa Rica. A renowned speaker and workshop facilitator, she attracted “repeat participants” who proclaimed her sessions as “the most rewarding you’ve ever been a part of.” Polley worked as Oklahoma State Coordinator with Congressman Dennis Kucinich to promote a United States Department of Peace. A fierce anti-death penalty activist, she served as OK-CADP’s chair, co-chair, and secretary and was active with the group until her death.
“As a tireless resister of the death penalty, I knew that she frequently visited and befriended death row inmates, and worked for their clemency, believing that all of us are more than the worst thing we have ever done,” said Robin Meyers, Senior Minister at Mayflower Church, where she attended.
Attorney Peter K. Schaffer opened Kaiser’s Grateful Bean Café on North Walker, in Oklahoma City in 1993 with the intent to hire people down on their luck. The people that he hires are from half-way houses, Dale Rodgers Training Center, the Department of Corrections and court-related or mental-health organizations. The café hires people in need as a “hand-up not a hand-out.” Last Thanksgiving, Schaffer opened his restaurant to homeless people, gave them a typical Thanksgiving Dinner with all the trimmings and had volunteers waiting on each table.
“Pete’s selfless work on behalf of the less-fortunate among us for so many years certainly qualifies him for the Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Award,” said OKUHRA vice chair John Walters.
Award nominations were submitted by the public and then evaluated by the Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Alliance board.
In 1963 the Oklahoma Legislature created the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission (OHRC) to implement the Legislature’s mandate of “removing friction, eliminating discrimination, and promoting unity and understanding among all the people of Oklahoma.” The legislation was part of the national civil rights movement.
The independent commission was charged with investigating discrimination complaints and helped to alleviate employment and housing discrimination lawsuits.
In 2012, the OHRC was eliminated by Governor Mary Fallin and the Republican controlled Oklahoma legislature.
“Our group addresses the needs of minorities in Oklahoma through education and response to acts of discrimination,” said Walters. “We annually honor this outstanding human rights activism by Oklahomans.”
According to the OKHRA website, these citizens are united by their commitment to the values and principles expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
For more information, call 405-631-3027 or visit okhumanrights.org.