Saturday, August 1, 2015

Celebrating 2015 Val Joshua Award Recipients

Diana Perez (left) and LaQuoya Tyler (right) posing with their awards.

Social justice does not just “happen.” It takes dedicated individuals, groups and communities to instigate change, keep the momentum, spread the word, and celebrate successes. One way YWCA Clark County celebrates those who are making a significant impact in social justice is through The Val Joshua Racial Justice and Youth Social Justice Awards. This annual award ceremony honors two local citizens who are carrying on the legacy of Val Joshua, a former YWCA Clark County board president and community leader who committed her life toward the elimination of racism.

The Val Joshua Racial Justice Award went to Diana Perez, President of Southwest Washington’s League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). As president of LULAC, Diana strives to be at the forefront of supporting the mission of the organization, which seeks to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, housing, health and civil rights of the Latino population of the United States.  

Diana re-established the local LULAC chapter in 2011 after noticing that, “the need for organizational skills in our community is huge, especially within underserved communities and in our youth.” She continued, “As an educated Latina, I felt that it was my responsibility to start giving back in a substantial way where there was purpose and meaning. I don't know if I would have had the courage to establish a new Council had it not been for the support of many in the Latino community.”

Despite all the wonderful work she’s done for the community, Diana was still shocked to learn she’d been given the award after receiving an email from Kate Sacamano, YWCA’s Director of Philanthropy, “I had to read her message three times to make sure, then I took a deep breathe, and thought of my parents while I fought back those tears.”  Diana was particularly proud to tell her two children about the award.

Recent Fort Vancouver High School graduate LaQuoya Tyler was presented with The Val Joshua Youth Social Justice Award and Scholarship, in addition to being one of four recent recipients of YWCA Clark County’s Young Woman of Achievement Award & Scholarship earlier in the year.

LaQuoya, who plans on attending Western Oregon University in the fall, was heavily active in her school’s Black Student Union. Additionally, LaQuoya logged hundreds of hours of voluntary service on behalf of HIV/AIDS patients:

“A few years ago, my family was approached to be a part of a pilot project called HIV/AIDS of Faith. Our purpose was to bring awareness to the churches in the NW Portland area about HIV/AIDS prevention and protection. It became a passion of mine ever since.”

She is equally passionate about mental health issues, and is a trained Mental Health First Aid worker with experience working with youth, and promoting mental health awareness programs like Open Minds Open Doors to help eliminate the stigma of mental illness.

LaQuoya credits her father and grandmother for instilling her with a passion to give back to her community at a young age. Like Diana, she was humbled that her advocacy was being acknowledged, “I was honored that the people around me thought so highly of me, and a little overwhelmed, if I’m being honest!”

Diana described the reception itself as “a sweet and loving environment”, and she particularly enjoyed meeting and being alongside LaQuoya. Both women felt touched by the support they received by members of the community, with Diana noting, “Some of my good LULAC friends attended, and the kind words shared by Mr. Jack Burkman was very special to me. The time and energy it took the staff from YWCA to celebrate the award is greatly appreciated.”

Adds LaQuoya, “I’m not really good at taking pictures or speaking on the spot in front of an audience, but it really was a wonderful experience. And the cake was delicious! I also really enjoyed the piece of art I received. It will be cherished for as long as I live.”

Congratulations once again to LaQuoya and Diana on your well-deserved awards. Thank you both for being shining embodiments of what it means to advocate for social justice and racial equality in our community!

Click here to see more photos from the event!

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