ELLICOTT CITY, MD – The Howard County Human Rights Commission has announced the winners of its 2021 Human Rights Awards and unveiled its new namesake awards. The awards have now been named after several pioneers of human rights who lived, worked and/or served in Howard County in order to honor and preserve their contributions and legacy.
This year’s award recipients, Howard County Library System President and CEO Tonya Aikens was honored with the James E. Henson Sr. & Jean W. Toomer Award, Yara Ayache won the Dr. Murray Simon Student Award and the Luminus Network for New Americans and Wilde Lake High School’s Students for Social Justice each took home the Colette Roberts Organization Award, were all honored during the Commission’s awards ceremony last night at the Howard County Conservancy.
These awards celebrate outstanding Howard County residents and organizations that work tirelessly to serve our community through their humanitarian efforts. Congratulations to each of our winners, who have gone above and beyond to garner this recognition from the Howard County Human Rights Commission. I can confidently say this is just the beginning of their legacy in service to others.
Presented annually, the Human Rights Commission Awards honor individuals and community organizations for contributions to human and civil rights in Howard County. The purpose of the awards is to recognize exemplary citizenship, dedicated leadership and outstanding achievement in eliminating or eradicating discrimination, while advancing human rights for all residents of Howard County. Award recipients are selected by the Commission based on nominations submitted by the community.
The Commission honors individuals, students, and community organizations who have helped fulfill our mission of cultivating a community where the ideals of equity, inclusion, respect, and non-discrimination are interwoven into everyday life. This year’s awardees truly embody the spirit of our theme ‘We Are More, Uplifting the Human Spirit.’ Each award recipient has worked tirelessly to build a more just and equitable community in Howard County and beyond. I am humbled by their outstanding work, as well as the work of the many other worthy nominees that we received.
As head of the Howard County Library System (HCLS), Tonya Aikens spearheaded and developed HCLS’s Brave Voices Brave Choices, a multi-pronged, multi-year, anti-racism educational and community building initiative. Tonya believes that through anti-bias training, storytelling and community relationship building, Howard County can continue to lead the way concerning racial equity and justice.
A 2021 graduate of Atholton High School, Yara Ayache is an exceptional student, musician, community organizer and an avid speaker and panelist. She founded the Youth of the World Orchestra, produces her very own podcast, “The Spirit of Success,” and as a member of the Model United Nations Student Organization, presented position papers before the United Nations Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly. Yara is passionate about the social and physical health of all people and hopes to continue to serve her community one day as a physician. She is currently a freshman in the Honors College at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Serving some of the most vulnerable in our community, Luminus Network for New Americans is committed to ensuring that new Howard County residents disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, have equitable access to shelter, food and medical care. Since the start of the pandemic, Luminus has hosted a number of testing and vaccination events and this year alone, has distributed more than 2,400 pounds of food (or 2,083 meals). Luminus’ Language Prose Program has also been instrumental in tackling language barriers by translating COVID-19 safety protocols, testing and vaccine availability public notices into several languages spoken throughout the county.
Wilde Lake High School’s Students for Social Justice (S4SJ) is a student-led organization dedicated to meeting the needs of its Howard County community. Since its formation, S4SJ has consistently fought for social reform and justice. Through organized teach-ins, presentations, discussions, social media awareness campaigns and a host of other initiatives, S4SJ strives to teach others about the struggles of certain cultures and groups, such as our disabled, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and Black communities.
For more information about this year’s award ceremony and/or winners, contact the Office of Human Rights & Equity at 410-313-6430 or email [email protected]. To learn more about the Human Rights Commission, visit the Office of Human Rights and Equity’s “Commissions & Workgroups” website.