By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – The public is invited to attend the presentation of the 2019 Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Awards on Saturday, December 7 at the Oklahoma State Capitol. The free, public event will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the State Senate Committee Room #535, in Oklahoma City.
The program will recognize Oklahoma individuals or organizations that have made a significant contribution to human rights. The event 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, OKUHRA chair. The awards will be announced by UNA-OKC board member Bill Bryant and presented by Alejandra Muller, OKC UN Association President.
Speakers will include Serena Prammanasudh, Executive Director Dream Action Oklahoma and Dr. Nyla Ali Khan, author and professor at Rose State College presenting “The Threat to Civil Liberties.”
The 2019 individual honorees are: Jonathan Velie, Willard Linzy, Misha Klein, Pamela Timmons, Gene McKown, April Heiple, Gilma Ramjak, Bansari Mehta, Dwain Anthony Pellebon, Lester Claravall, Saidy Orellana, Melissa Eick, Jason Hall, and Ramiro Vasquez Padilla (posthumously).
Organizations honored this year are Commonwealth Urban Farms; Pivot, Inc., A Turning Point for Youth; and Oklahoma Leading Ladies for Healthy Babies.
Jon Velie is an internationally renowned expert on immigration law and founder and CEO of Online Visas, the global immigration platform. Presenting seminars on immigration around the world, Jon has briefed cases to the U.S. Supreme Court on three occasions and spoken at U.S. Congressional and agency panels. He has been featured in numerous publications including the New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, Le Monde, and London Times.
Saidy Herrera Orellana is the producer of the 2019 documentary Kites and Dreams, which begins with the 36-year long civil war in Guatemala. Focusing on the exodus from Guatemala and El Salvador, the film reveals what families left behind and the challenges of attending schools in the US. In the documentary, Saidy shares her experience of family separation, vulnerability, and food insecurity.
Born in Panama City, Panama, Gilma Yimma Ramjak has lived in Oklahoma City for over 26 years. She studied Business Administration at the University of Panama and worked for the Panamanian government as a quality and control supervisor, operation manager, and later as an assistant teacher for Oklahoma Schools. Gilma is the owner of Aschley’s Day Care, which she has run for the past 18 years.
Willard Linzy has been a community activist for the African-American community Oklahoma City for more than 20 years. An Oklahoma City native, he has advocated for improved quality of life issues relating to poverty, mis-education, healthcare disparities, and the erosion of family, church and ethnicity values. He served fifteen years as deacon for the Britton Road Church of Christ.
An associate professor at the University of Oklahoma Department of Anthropology, Misha Klein’s work focuses on social justice and minority rights. Her dissertation and first book (Kosher Feijoada and Other Paradoxes of Jewish Life in São Paulo, 2012) explores the relationship between ethnic and national identity in Sao Paolo, Brazil’s Jewish community. Her current research examines the issues of race, political activism, transnational antisemitic discourses, and their effects on Jewish Brazilian identity.
Pam Timmons is Executive Director of Good Shepherd Clinic, which provides medical and dental services for vulnerable members of the Oklahoma City community. Pam attended the University of Central Oklahoma and later worked with nonprofit organizations in administration, finance, and marketing. She has led record-setting fundraising campaigns and been a part of two major capital campaigns.
A longtime philanthropist, Gene McKown is founder of Ideal Homes, a company that helps people achieve the dream of owning their own home. Gene and April Heiple partnered to build a new campus for the Norman Food and Shelter organization, which provides food, housing and emergency services for people in crisis in Cleveland County. He served as commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce for 12 years, chairman of the State Industrial Development Department and president of the Norman Chamber of Commerce. Gene was appointed as an Oklahoma Transportation Commissioner At-Large by Gov. Stitt in April 2019.
The Executive Director of Food and Shelter, April Heiple started her advocacy work after volunteering at the Womens Service and Family Resource Center. She has served for over twenty years as an advocate for women and children in crisis. In 2010, April found an opportunity to serve the Norman community through the organization Food and Shelter for Friends. In 2015, April, along with her community partner Gene McKown, launched a campaign to build what would become known as McKown Village; a community for people in need.
Originally from Mumbai, India, Bansari Mehta serves as a Medical Practice Administrator for the Retina Vitreous Center. A respiratory therapist, she came to the U.S. to acquire her Masters in Health Administration and Policy from the University of Oklahoma where she was honored as the Outstanding Multicultural Student awardee. Fluent in seven languages, she is a United Nations USA Emerging Leaders Fellow and New Leaders Council Fellow.
Dr. Dwain Pellebon is a licensed clinical social worker practicing mental health and substance abuse treatment in Oklahoma City. He was an associate professor of social work at the University of Oklahoma, Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work and the first ever African American hired on a Ph.D. tenure track. A published scholar on the Black family, Afrocentricity, race and ethnic identity development, spirituality and social work, and social oppression. Pellebon is co-founder of Ending Violence Everywhere Oklahoma and chair of the Police and Community Trust Initiative.
Lester Claravall began public service as a Carl Albert Executive Fellow for the State of Oklahoma in 1997. After only six months, he was asked to start up the Child Labor Unit. His background in marketing, training and development aided in spearheading a statewide young worker safety campaign in schools. As the state’s only full-time child labor officer, Lester would be responsible for educational outreach and enforcement efforts throughout the state. Lester works with several international partners to keep young workers safe around the globe.
Melissa Eick, J.D. is co-founder of The Dragonfly Home, which operates Oklahoma’s first state certified crisis center for victims of human trafficking. As the group’s Director of Communications and Development, Melissa works to educate the public on the complexities of human trafficking and the needs of human trafficking survivors through writing, speaking, and social media. She serves on the Oklahoma Human Trafficking Task Force, as co-chair of the Training and Awareness Committee, and on the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women Advisory Council.
After walking the path of addiction and homelessness, Jason Hall returned to university later in life to study for his Bachelor of Science in Psychology. He served as the Executive Director of C. Carter Crane Homeless Shelter and the Executive Director for Family Promise of Lawton. Jason currently serves as a Community Resource Navigator, providing resources for the “biopsychosocial” needs of vulnerable community members statewide.
Rasmiro Vasquez Padilla (December 25, 1969 – October 16, 2019) will be honored posthumously as a humanitarian who supported community based organiations with his time, money and business. Groups such as the DREAMERS and LULAC, the Latin-American Civil Rights OKC chapter, frequented his restaurant, La Oaxaquena, to organize for the civil rights of new immigrants. Partnering with grassroots organizatiosn, he helped individuas to achieve employment, house and healthservices.
CommonWealth Urban Farms is made up of a dedicated group of people who are growing and composting on urbanized land in northwest Oklahoma City. Their mission is to grow food, equip a network of urban gardeners, create local jobs, turn local waste into compost.
Pivot, Inc., A Turning Point for Youth provides programs and services for young people (12-21) that focus on homeless youth services; counseling; educational and vocational services; prevention, intervention and diversion services; and a young person’s overall well-being.
Oklahoma Leading Ladies for Healthy Babies’ mission is to implement evidence-based practices through local, faith-based ministries to help reduce infant mortality, and improve the health and wellbeing of African American women.
Following the ceremony, a complementary luncheon, sponsored by UNA-OKC, will be served. Those staying for lunch should RSVP at 405-631-3027.
Award nominations were submitted by the public and then evaluated by the Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Alliance board.
For more information, call 405-631-3027 or visit okhumanrights.org.