Val-Kill Medals Bestowed to Six Inspiring Individuals

By Jennifer L. Warren

HYDE PARK – The bright, colorful quilt, embedded with Eleanor Roosevelt’s image, along with uplifting, empowering words, phrases and sentences aimed at equality, justice, determination and love proudly hung from the front tent area where six people, hailed as both community and global humanitarian icons, were being celebrated. The eye-catching piece seemed perfectly fitting for the occasion.

Titled “Expressions in Equality,” the quilt, crafted by artist Susan Shies, contained all of the words from the United Declaration of Human Rights, whose 70th anniversary was jointly being celebrated last Sunday afternoon at the 32nd annual Eleanor Roosevelt Center Val-Kill Medal Ceremony. Here, amidst a gorgeous fall backdrop, six individuals, both locally and globally known for their relentless efforts aimed at preserving human rights and human justice, were celebrated. Much like the “First Lady of the World,” each of these honorees possesses a burning desire to make the world a better place through their selfless, dedicated, and brave efforts, while upholding the high ideals of both Roosevelt and the Declaration of Human Rights. Whether in the legal, education or entertainment field, Each one of this year’s recipients has made a potent, positive impact on others’ lives.

“These are people who are shining examples of truly living through activism, advocacy and compassion in service to the betterment of the local and global community,” said April Gozza, Executive Director of the Eleanor Roosevelt Center. “Above all else Eleanor was a role model, innovative about how to improve her own and others’ lives, and to fight for equality; we must keep asking ourselves today: What would Eleanor do?”

Jaha Dukureh, one of the six recipients, has powerfully been responding to that question, through her unwavering commitment to protecting those affected by gender violence. A survivor of female genital mutilation and forced child marriage, Dukureh has received the honors of TIME Magazine’s prestigious “100 Most Influential People in the World” as well as “One of the Most Influential Africans” in 2017.

“It’s a huge honor as a woman to be recognized today,” said Dukureh, a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. “Globally we have been able to change laws both in the United States and outside of it, and knowing the work we do is protecting millions of girls who have been affected by female genital mutilation is extremely rewarding.”

Another area that one of the honorees works in, education, is also intensely fulfilling. Dr. Pamela R. Edington, the fifth and first female president of Dutchess Community College, was hailed for her work as a Champion who promotes educational accessibility, diversity and civic engagement. Passionate about quality education for all, Edington’s focus has been on reducing unfair gaps on the post-collegiate level, particularly for adult women. It’s a life’s mission that in many ways mimicked the vibe of the entire event.

“It is especially fitting that Dutchess Community College be honored on the 70th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights – as Article 26 states that everyone has a right to an education-and that higher education can be equally accessible to all,” affirmed Edington, who related several tales of Roosevelt’s ardent attempts to make memorable, heartfelt trips to DCCC, where she shared her experiences with both faculty and students. “I have no doubt she [Roosevelt] would have been proud of Dutchess County Community College six decades and 43,000 alumni later.”

In addition to Dukureh and Edington, other recipients included; Tarana J. Burke (Social Justice Activist and “Me Too” Movement Founder), Roberta (Robbie) Kaplan (Gender Equity & Civil Rights Advocate), the Honorable Albert M. Rosenblatt (Protector, Judicial Integrity & Ethics) and Loung Ung (Genocide Chronicler & Human Rights Defender.) It’s a revered list of exceptionally talented and compassionate individuals that keep people like Wendy Maragh Taylor, a representative to Vassar College, coming back to this inspiring event, celebrating the spirit of one of the country’s most beloved and ground breaking women in history.

“I have been coming here for the past 10 years as a member of the advisory committee for the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Girls Leadership Worldwide Program, initially supporting both the girls from it as well as the organization,” said Maragh Taylor. “I continue to come because of the wonderful, empowering, and proud opportunity to see those who are committed to social justice be honored for their very important work.”

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