Burlingame, CA…Eight inspiring and dedicated educators from across the state are this year’s winners of the annual California Teachers Association’s Human Rights Awards for their outstanding dedication to promoting and protecting human and civil rights.
“The passion and sense of justice and community involvement that these educators all show inspires them to make a difference far beyond their classrooms,” said Eric Heins, president of the 325,000-member CTA. “We honor their special work and dedication with these awards.”
See more information about the winners and a group photo here.
Bestowed on Saturday, March 4, at the CTA Equity and Human Rights Conference in San Jose, the CTA Human Rights Awards this year went to these exemplary educators:
PALMDALE: Palmdale Elementary Teachers Association activist and CTA Board of Directors member Marty Meeden is the winner of the CTA Member Human Rights Award – and a national human rights award from the National Education Association (NEA). He is a fearless advocate for cultural awareness and all students of color. His impact on the Native community has been dramatic, and he has worked tirelessly to develop and implement community-based activities involving CTA members, students, parents and other educational stakeholders. He has created educational materials and curriculum on minority issues and Second Language Learners. Meeden will also be this year’s recipient of NEA’s Leo Reano Memorial Award at the NEA Representative Assembly this summer in Boston. This national award recognizes his lifelong work to enhance the education of American Indian/Alaska Native children and youth.
SAN FRANCISCO: Betty Robinson-Harris, an early childhood educator in the San Francisco Unified School District, is the winner of the CTA Human Rights Award in Honor of Lois Tinson, a past president of CTA. She is a strong role model dedicated to promoting equal rights and opportunities as an educator, trainer, mentor and union activist with United Educators of San Francisco (UESF). Her work includes creating projects and curriculum that highlight African-American history and developing trainings and programs for her colleagues and the communities they serve. Robinson-Harris has represented UESF as a bargaining team member and trainer. As an early childhood educator, her basic philosophy is about self-esteem, self-awareness and self-worth. She has made the social and emotional growth of her young students a top priority and has touched thousands of families during her long teaching career.
PALMDALE: CTA Board of Directors member George Melendez is the winner of the CTA American Indian/Alaska Native Human Rights Award in Honor of Jim Clark. A teacher in the Palmdale School District, he is an unwavering champion of promoting the values and teachings of Native American culture. He is a leader of CTA’s American Indian and Alaska Native Caucus at the union’s State Council of Education, it’s top governing body, where he introduced a Council business item last year to have CTA change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day; CTA now recognizes Oct. 12 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Melendez is a staunch advocate for cultural awareness, language preservation and accurate historical curriculum on Native Americans. He was key in developing a plan to show support of the Chumash tribe’s legislative bill for credentialing Native Elders to teach their native language. He is dedicated to making CTA members more aware of the rights, issues and concerns that California Native students face in our public schools.
TRACY: Jared Rio, a veteran Tracy Unified School District teacher and Tracy Educators Association activist, is the winner of the CTA Peace and Justice Human Rights Award. He educates students about the history of human rights in one course he developed that stresses the responsibilities people have to help others, and to promote and protect each other’s human and civil rights. His student-centered work included raising money and food for the homeless and leading tours of food pantries so students can understand the problems of homelessness, and find solutions. Rio’s International Day and Week of Peace included having students sign a petition calling on Congress to end the conflict in Syria and ease the refugee crisis. His students also created “peace murals” that connected them via artistic representations of Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Rio also developed a human trafficking awareness event that was supported by local police, anti-crime advocates and the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office.
UNION CITY: Kim Geron, who teaches courses in American politics, public policy and race and ethics at the CSU-East Bay campus in Hayward, is the winner of the CTA Pacific Asian American Human Rights Award. He is a legend in the East Bay for his role in getting the New Haven Unified School District to rename Alvarado Middle School to Itliong-Veracruz Middle School after two labor leaders well-known in the local Filipino-American community, the largest in the East Bay. Larry Itliong and Philip Veracruz fought for better wages for agricultural workers in the Central Valley. The New Haven district is the first in the country to name a school after Filipino Americans – as a statement about courage, equality and human rights. Geron, a California Faculty Association member, continues to advocate for immigration rights as well as rights for undocumented students in high school and in higher education.
VISTA, SAN DIEGO COUNTY: Reagan Duncan, a teacher in Vista Unified School District in San Diego County, is the winner of the CTA Women’s Issues Human Rights Award. What started last year as her Facebook post mushroomed into a national effort to provide vital supplies to homeless women. Duncan mobilized to fill donated old purses with supplies such as socks, hygiene products, soap, shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrushes. Friends and union colleagues participated and the idea spread to New York and Washington state via social media. San Diego media covered her outstanding work here and here, which also included inspiring her class to collect about 150 backpacks and purses and fill them with school supplies and women’s supplies so they could be distributed to women and children in local shelters. A veteran political activist, she’s also vice president of the Vista Teachers Association and is a delegate to the CTA State Council of Education.
SAN FRANCISCO: Naomi Violet Forsberg, a paraprofessional educator in San Francisco Unified School District and a member of United Educators of San Francisco, is the winner of the CTA Leadership in Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Award in Honor of Nancy Bailey. Employed in a large, urban comprehensive high school’s Wellness Center, she provides safe spaces for all students. She facilitates support groups like the Young Men’s Health Group and the QGroup, which is a confidential support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual students. She and a co-worker created the original curriculum for the QGroup four years ago, and it’s now being implemented in more than 10 schools. Forsberg also led the charge for the establishment of multi-stall, non-gender-specific rest rooms at her site. She coordinates annual daylong school-wide events, and brings community-based organizations on campus to further create safe and inclusive spaces. Her contributions to her school’s Wellness Program and all her efforts to consult and train students, faculty, staff and administration throughout her district truly keep students safe.
SALINAS: Oscar Ramos, who worked the fields with his family as a boy, is the winner of the CTA Cesar Chavez “Sí Se Puede” Human Rights Award. It’s fitting because he fondly remembers being a child and marching with his family and iconic labor leader Cesar Chavez in Hollister, Salinas, and Watsonville. In 2015, Ramos was featured in a full-length PBS documentary titled “East of Salinas.” It was nationally televised and it highlighted his dedication to the Hispanic community, farmworkers, education for all, and the mantra, “Sí Se Puede,” which means, “Yes you can.” His family moved from city to city until they settled in a labor camp in Hollister in San Benito County. He worked in the agricultural fields alongside his family from the time he was seven years old until he was legally able to work on his own. He graduated from UC-Berkeley in 1996 and is a member of the Salinas Elementary Teachers Council. Press coverage of his work includes profiles in the Monterey County Herald and the New York Times. He has made it his life’s mission to help migrant students and families reach their dreams.