Some of the recipients of 2016 awards from the Commission on the Status of Women. Photo: James Knox
Some of the recipients of 2016 awards from the Commission on the Status of Women. Photo: James Knox

By Delency Parham & Maya Cueva

More than 50 people gathered at City Hall on Tuesday night to commemorate outstanding women who serve as leaders in the community and who advocate for improving the conditions of young Bay Area women. The event was held by the Commission on the Status of Women, which awarded six women and one local organization with a Lifetime Achievement Award, a Trailblazer Award, a Young Woman of Achievement and Leadership Award, and an Outstanding Organization award.

Among these awardees was Moni Law, a former attorney, community activist, and legal housing counselor. She received the Trailblazer Award for her leadership and commitment to helping youth of color, students, and residents understand their legal rights pertaining to rental housing.

Law is a filmmaker, a member of the Berkeley chapter of the NAACP, a member of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, and is deeply engaged in civic activity. As a housing counselor for the Rent Stabilization Board, she counsels low-income people of color, seniors, students, and people with disabilities who are looking for housing in a city with spiraling rent costs.

Moni Law accepting her award from the Commission on the Status of Women. Photo: James Knoz
Moni Law accepting her award from the Commission on the Status of Women. Photo: James Knoz

Law said that as a woman of color, a UC Berkeley alum, and longtime resident, she has seen firsthand how gentrification and skyrocketing rent prices are pushing residents of color out of their homes in the city.

“I am very shocked and horrified by the dwindling numbers of diverse community members [in Berkeley],” said Law.

Law says that the significant drop in the Black population in Berkeley from 20% in the 1970s to below 8% today is what drives her to continue to advocate for affordable housing and to fight against displacement.

“I’ve talked to people every day…who have no food because they are paying all the money on rent,” said Law. “They cannot afford rent so they are on the margin of homelessness. So my advocacy…is to ensure that we keep a racially, ethnically, religiously, spiritually, income-wise diverse community.”

Law says it’s an honor to receive such a prestigious award and hopes it can open doors and opportunities to continue the fight to ensure affordable housing for all residents.

Faye Carol
Faye Carol. Photo: Faye Carol

In addition to Law, long-time musician and youth advocate Faye Carol was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award at the event, which recognized individuals whose leadership has had a lasting impact on “improving the conditions affecting women and girls.”

“I am so entirely honored to be receiving a lifetime achievement award,” said Carol. “I really want them to call it a half of a life because I got another half to go.”

So far in her lifetime, Carol has been a singer, an entertainer, and an educator for about 40 years.

“You know while you are doing your work, you have no idea who is listening, who is seeing, who is observing, so it’s just nice to know that somebody is paying attention and that they see the struggle and that they are willing to acknowledge it,” she said. “So, I am just really blessed to be here.”

Another awardee was Haben Girma, a San Francisco native and disability rights advocate Girma was awarded the Young Woman of Achievement and Leadership award, which recognized her work as an internationally acclaimed disability and accessibility leader and lawyer. As the first deaf-blind student to graduate Harvard Law, Girma has fought for equal access to information for people with disabilities through advocacy and new technologies. She also works with organizations and individuals to make their organizations more inclusive and accessible.

“Disability brings value to organizations,” said Girma. “Disability drives innovation. So when we make our schools, companies, organizations more accessible for everyone we all benefit.
“I’d love to see more accessibility changes within the city of Berkeley,” Girma told Berkeleyside.

The 2016 Celebration of Women event also recognized a local organization at Berkeley High School, known as “BHS Stop Harassing.” This group aims to raise awareness about the culture of sexual harassment and sexual assault at Berkeley High. It was created in response to remarks from a former administrator at the high school who was quoted to be policing young female students on how they dressed.

COSOW awarded the group an Outstanding Organization award for their commitment to ensuring a safe campus at Berkeley High school.

During her acceptance speech, Uma Nagaragan-Swenson, a representative from Stop Harassing, thanked the committee and called for more recognition on how prevalent sexual harassment is on high school campuses nationwide.

“In high school all students, but particularly girls, experience gender-based discrimination and harassment daily. We need to change the policies and the neglect that lets this happen,” said Nagaragan-Swenson.

Mayor Tom Bates recognized the outstanding women awards at the beginning of the City Council meeting that immediately followed the event. Among the other outstanding women awardees were Anna Rabkin and Pamela Grossman for a Lifetime Achievement Awards, and Wendy Bloom, a nurse who fought to get Berkeley to adopt a $15-hour minimum wage. She received a Trailblazer Award.

BHS Stop Harassing takes campaign to city council (09.18.15)
BHS anti-harassment student group wins award, celebrates with Patricia Arquette (06.12.15)
Faye Carol, artist and mentor, to be honored as Jazz hero (04.10.14)

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