Celebrate Fearless Activists

PRESS RELEASE [Bajar communicado de prensa en espanol aqui]


Freedom From Fear Award Commends 15 “Ordinary People” for Extraordinary Acts of Courage on Behalf of Immigrants and Refugees; Winners Named at 2011 Netroots Nation Conference

(Minneapolis, MN, June 18, 2011) Four DREAM students who walked 1500 miles from Miami to Washington DC to dramatize the barriers facing undocumented immigrants. Two men—one American and one South Asian—who rescued trafficked guest workers from virtual bondage. A police chief who was vilified for speaking up against local enforcement of federal immigration laws.  An African American legislator in the Deep South who helped pass a model anti-racial profiling ordinance, citing the unlawful targeting of immigrants in his state. LGBTQ and undocumented youth spurring others to come out of the shadows.

These and other “unsung heroes” are recipients of the first Freedom from Fear Awards, honoring “ordinary people who have committed extraordinary acts of courage on behalf of immigrants and refugees — individuals who have taken a risk, set an example, and inspired others to awareness or action.”  Fifteen winners were announced today at the 2011 Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis, MN.

The Awards are particularly fitting on the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides that helped dismantle segregation in the South, and on the heels of the Arab Spring that has shown the power of ordinary people overcoming their fear, said sponsors of the Awards.

The Freedom from Fear Award was created by philanthropic leaders Geri Mannion and Taryn Higashi as a way of “paying forward” $10,000 they received as co-recipients of the 2009 Robert W. Scrivner Award for Creative Grantmaking, presented by the Council on Foundations.  Friends and colleagues contributed additional funds to meet a $100,000 challenge grant from the W.K.Kellogg Foundation, thus enabling 15 winners to receive $5,000 each and a commissioned art piece.  The awards were administered and produced by NEO Philanthropy.

Higashi explained the founders’ motivation, “Immigration is a very controversial issue right now.  We wanted to recognize some of the incredible unsung heroes who are standing up in their communities—sometimes at great personal risk—to make this a more just and humane society for immigrants.”

The new one-time prize attracted 380 nominations from 42 states through online outreach and word-of-mouth.  “We were so inspired by reading all these stories—young people risking deportation to educate policy makers, police officers who resist racial profiling, business people who challenge their peers,” said Mannion.  “It’s worth celebrating how many courageous people are working to keep us strong as a nation of immigrants.”

Several Freedom from Fear Award winners will speak during the closing session of Netroots Nation on Saturday, June 18thNetroots Nation is an annual conference that will attract several thousand progressive bloggers and organizers to Minneapolis this year.



For further information of the award winners, click on each name below (in some cases, one prize was given to a group of winners working together):

Erika Andiola: Phoenix, AZ.
Andiola was an honors student at Arizona State University who lost her scholarships when the state changed its eligibility laws for undocumented residents. She became one of the leaders of the Arizona DREAM Coalition, working tirelessly to organize students and to educate powerful elected officials about the DREAM Act—including U.S. Senators John McCain and Harry Reid, and Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce—all while risking arrest and deportation.

Osfel Andrade: Anaheim, CA
Andrade filed a class-action federal lawsuit against his former employer on behalf of approximately 500 workers demanding back wages for years of exploitation and discrimination.  The company retaliated by reporting him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Andrade is courageously challenging the practice of unscrupulous employers who use the threat of immigration retaliation to suppress worker rights.

Xiomara Benitez Blanco: Chapel Hill, NC
Blanco was targeted, sexually harassed and blackmailed by an Immigration Services officer who threatened her with deportation. Despite the potential peril and ongoing medical challenges, she filed a complaint, cooperated with ICE and other agencies and testified against her tormenter in court.  The case resulted in the officer serving a 12-month jail sentence and drew attention to the threats immigrants face by unscrupulous agents.

Maria Bolanos Hernandez: Hyattsville, MD
When she called the police for assistance in a domestic dispute, Bolanos found herself re-victimized and ensnared in “Secure Communities,” a controversial immigration enforcement program that checks the immigration status of everyone brought into a local jail. Unwilling to accept her deportation as a fait accompli, Bolanos spoke out against the detrimental effects of Secure Communities on families and community policing.

Wei Chen, Xu Lin, Bach Tong, and Duong Nghe Le: Philadelphia, PA
Beaten repeatedly by other students and ignored by school officials, these Philadelphia high school students organized a powerful campaign—including an eight-day boycott and a federal civil rights lawsuit—that finally forced their school and the district to  protect the safety of Asian immigrant students. They have since gone on to help lead a citywide campaign for non-violent schools.

David Cho: South Pasadena, CA
Cho “came out” as undocumented on the steps of LA City Hall, risking everything in his life as a successful student and the first Korean American drum major of the UCLA marching band. He explained to his parents, “Unless our generation speaks out, the politicians won’t tackle it. They have to see our faces.”  Cho will be attending UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs to obtain his master’s degree in Public Policy and ultimately hopes to become a U.S. Senator one day.

Jack Harris: Phoenix Arizona
Harris is the former Chief of Police of Phoenix, Arizona who recently retired after 39 years of service. Harris spoke out at great personal and professional risk about the importance of protecting the rights and safety of everyone in the community–including immigrants.  He opposed passage of AZ Senate Bill 1070 because its requirement for  police to routinely enquire about the immigration status of residents, on the grounds that it would effectively end community policing, drain resources from the core mission of crime-fighting, and lead to possible racial profiling.

Gene Lefebvre and Sarah Roberts: Tucson, AZ
Lefebvre and Roberts are co-founders of No More Deaths, which provides humanitarian aid to those crossing the US-Mexico border. Lefebvre and Roberts have trained thousands of volunteers to walk the remote trails of Southern Arizona in scorching heat carrying jugs of water, food and medical supplies to prevent death and suffering in the desert.

Chokwe Lumumba: Jackson, MS
Lumumba is an African American member of the City Council of Jackson, Mississippi with a long history of activism in the civil rights movement.  He wrote and helped to pass a model anti-racial profiling ordinance, citing the unlawful targeting of immigrants in his state, that has helped to create a much more positive climate in the city for immigrants.

Mark Massey: Sand Springs, OK
Massey is a Pentecostal lay minister and the quintessential Good Samaritan who did not turn away when 53 Indian “guest workers” appealed to him for aid. He helped them to escape their servitude, housed and fed them. He has since spent nearly a decade helping more than 500 Indian workers in similar straits to gain freedom and legal status, first in his native Oklahoma and later in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida.

Gaby Pacheco, Juan Rodriguez, Felipe Matos and Carlos Roa: Miami, FL
These four students, (two, Juan and Felipe are openly gay),  walked 1,500 miles from Miami to Washington, DC to bring attention to the barriers faced by undocumented young people and their families. For five months they overcame constant fear of arrest and deportation, anti-immigrant protesters including the Ku Klux Klan, physical exhaustion and homophobia. The Trail of DREAMs successfully inspired communities throughout the Southeast, as well as tens of thousands of other DREAMers and policymakers.  In the year since the Trail concluded at the White House, the four walkers have remained outspoken leaders against the criminalization of immigrants and for humane immigration reform.

Antonella Packard: Saratoga Springs, UT
Packard is a successful Mormon Hispanic businesswoman, Republican and civic office holder who has been fearless in taking on the conservative establishment in Utah, aggressively advocating for DREAM Act protesters, the local Bosnian Muslim community, and other immigrants. She has used her status to bridge divides across parties and advance immigrant rights in this conservative state.

Rigo Padilla, Reyna Wences and Tania Unzueta: Chicago, IL
These three young people formed the Immigrant Youth Justice League after they successfully stopped the deportation of Padilla in 2009.  Drawing inspiration from the LGBTQ movement (Tania and Reyna identify as queer) and past immigrant rights organizing, they organized the first “National Coming Out of the Shadows Days” and have galvanized DREAM students around the country to publicly declare themselves “Undocumented and Unafraid.”

Aby Raju: Macon, GA
Raju was one of hundreds of guest workers hired by a U.S. company and held in an isolated labor camp. Along with 250 others, he escaped and traveled on foot from New Orleans to Washington, DC in the spirit of Gandhi, building relationships with African Americans along the way.  In DC the workers launched a 29-day hunger strike and testified in Congress against abusive labor traffickers. Raju’s four-year efforts have led to national recognition from the labor movement and the civil rights community about the ugly realities of the guestworker program.

Elizabeth Ruiz and Rick Covington: Vancouver, WA
These two friends—one an undocumented Latina mother in deportation hearings and the other a 74-year-old white Navy retiree—have thrown themselves into building support for immigration reform in their community. They have spoken at countless events, gone door-to-door to educate neighbors, led voter registration drives and been arrested in civil disobedience actions. Together they have sparked a chain reaction of ordinary people in Washington State standing up for immigrants.



For further information on this award winner or to schedule an interview, please contact

The Freedom From Fear Awards are produced by NEO Philanthropy.  NEO is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that brings together and strengthens the work of philanthropic institutions, donors, nonprofit groups and other public interest organizations sharing a vision of a society that ensures justice, dignity and opportunity for all people.  Statements and activities of Freedom from Fear Award winners do not necessarily reflect the views of NEO.

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