2011 U.S. Human Rights Heroes Announced

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The Petra Foundation welcomed four new fellows to its growing network of human rights heroes at its 23rd annual celebration of leaders who are making distinctive contributions to human rights and social justice.

Without personal privilege, and in the face of enormous obstacles, these leaders are improving lives in their communities.

The Petra Foundation welcomed four new fellows to its growing network of human rights heroes on Saturday, November 19, at its 23rd annual celebration of leaders who are making distinctive contributions to human rights and social justice.

The 2011 Petra Fellows were recognized for their innovative work on behalf of pregnant and parenting teens; low-wage restaurant workers; prison inmates and their families bearing the brunt of “tough on crime” political posturing; and the indigenous people of Guam, whose 30-mile-long island is about to be swamped by a $15-billion U.S. military build-up.

“Without personal privilege, and in the face of enormous obstacles, these leaders are not only improving the lives of those in their communities but they are working to bring about the changes that will add up to shared prosperity and opportunity in America,” said Petra director Meg Fidler. “We are honored to have them join us, and thrilled by the warm welcome they have received in Cambridge, where the foundation first launched 23 years ago.”

Keynoter Michael Patrick MacDonald, peace activist and author of All Souls, his award-winning memoir of growing up in South Boston, also paid tribute to the honorees: “Petra Fellows stand as a challenge to us to pay attention to the violence of poverty and injustice and to transform that pain into healing and hope. Their achievements do not allow us to simply applaud, but they call on each of us to act, as citizens of the world, to effect change wherever we are.”

The 2011 Petra Fellows are:

Julian Aquon, Chamoru Indian human rights activist from Guam, is using national and international legal advocacy, community organizing and critical scholarship to protect the environment and insure the cultural survival of indigenous peoples in the Pacific Islands in the face of massive waves of development and militarization.

Nikki Lewis, co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Center in Washington, DC, put
her first-hand experience of the occupational segregation, low-wages, lack of benefits and labor abuses to organize a rapidly growing workers center that is playing a role in the national movement for workplace justice.

Benita Miller, founding director of Brooklyn Young Mothers Collective, left her job as a juvenile rights lawyer to design a new model that enables disadvantaged teenage mothers not only to make transformational changes in their own lives and break the cycle of generational poverty, but also to become skilled advocates who are reframing the public response to pregnant and parenting teens.

Lillie Branch-Kennedy, co-founder of the Community Restoration Campaign, and founding director of Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged, has taken on the full range of hardships encountered by prisoners and their families, from supporting children of incarcerated parents to lobbying for restoration of parole and voting rights and against the practice of filling Virginia’s “supermax” cells – and state coffers – by importing prisoners from as far away as Hawaii.

To see videos of each winner, please visit http://www.youtube.com/thepetrafoundation.

About Petra
Each year since 1988, through a national search and nomination process, Petra has identified and championed unsung leaders who are making distinctive contributions to the rights, autonomy and dignity of the millions who are marginalized in America.

In addition to giving Petra Fellows a personal financial award, the foundation sustains its commitment to them, promoting their local models to national prominence, fostering their collaborations and leveraging the power of a growing network of activists, advocates and policymakers on their behalf.

More information on the foundation and the 90 Petra Fellows working in 31 states, Indian Nations and U.S. territories is at http://www.petrafoundation.org.

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Bonnie Lieb
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