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Today Media, DSU unveil inaugural Mitchell Awards class

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Delaware Business Times, Delaware Today and Delaware State University are excited to announce the inaugural class of Mitchell Award honorees, individuals in the First State who have demonstrated leadership and success in the important areas of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice.

Named for the late Delaware civil rights pioneers Littleton and Jane Mitchell, the Mitchell Awards showcase those who are championing efforts to educate, inspire and impact communities across the state in an effort to improve opportunities for all, regardless of their race, abilities or background.

The late Mitchells had a long history in working for equal rights in Delaware through a difficult period in the state’s history, including on the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that desegregated all American schools.

“When we envisioned the Mitchell Awards, we aimed to honor the often-unheralded work being done around our state to improve the lives of people from all walks of life. I’m proud of the class that our partners at Delaware State University have chosen to help us do that,” said Jacob Owens, editor of Delaware Business Times and an organizer of the program.

The annual awards program will recognize a handful of advocates with coverage in November editions of Delaware Business Times and Delaware Today. They will also be honored at a special Nov. 9 event at the Christiana Hilton that will feature an awards presentation and a keynote speaker.

Mitchell Awards Committee officials chose the final honorees after receiving input from the community. DSU students will aid the publications in the creation of the coverage and supporting materials.

“Once again, our country is at a crossroads in our quest for equality and social equity,” said Dr. Devona Williams, DSU Board of Trustees member and Mitchell Award Committee member. “With so many competing and conflicting voices, it is important to recognize that the core of our free society rests on ensuring the civil rights of all citizens. For Delaware, the Mitchell Awards recognize the efforts of leaders who have gone the extra mile to create opportunities for all Delawareans.”

The 2023 honorees include:

Reba Hollingsworth

Reba Hollingsworth Delaware State University Mitchell Awards

Reba Hollingsworth | PHOTO COURTESY OF DSU

Growing up in a segregated Delaware, Reba Hollingsworth was forced to leave home at age 15 to earn a high school diploma and college degree. She would spend a lifetime in public education and become a leader for the Delaware Heritage Commission, the state NAACP, and the African American Historical Society. Hollingsworth, one of the foremost authorities in the state on parliamentary law, was inducted into the Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame in 2018.

“Reba Hollingsworth is an iconic teacher, civil rights leader, and community advocate in Delaware. Her life has been one of sacrifice and service against tremendous odds, and her contributions to Black advancement have been emblematic of a life well-lived.  What’s more, she has yet to slow down and, at 96, continues to give of her time and talent in a way that should inspire us all,” the Award Committee wrote.

Fayetta Blake

Fayetta Fay Blake Pathways 2 To Success Mitchell Awards

Fay Blake | PHOTO COURTESY OF PATHWAYS 2 SUCCESS

The founder and executive director of Pathways to Success, a Georgetown-based nonprofit that helps at-risk children to finish their education and become career-ready, Fayetta Blake first led a barrier-breaking career in financial services. She founded Pathways to Success in 2006, and its accomplishments have earned her numerous accolades, including induction into the Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame in 2020.

“Fay Blake is a multi-sector leader who has used her considerable business acumen to enhance global citizenship in the corporate boardroom and the grassroots community. She founded the Pathways to Success program, which utilizes innovative and creative approaches in mentoring and education to help individuals develop to be healthy, productive, contributing, and responsible citizens. She is a force to be reckoned with in Sussex County and an exceptional example of a leader focused on access and opportunity with notable returns on investment,” the Award Committee wrote.

Sheila Bravo

Sheila Bravo DANA Mitchell Awards

Sheila Bravo | PHOTO COURTESY OF DANA

The president and CEO of the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement (DANA), Sheila Bravo has spearheaded support for organizations statewide that push for greater DEI&J representation. Her early career included advertising and brand development, but she transitioned to nonprofits after leading the Rehoboth Art League and today is one of the most vocal leaders in the community.

“Sheila Bravo leads the largest nonprofit association in Delaware and among the largest in the United States. She is a fierce advocate for all nonprofit organizations but has distinguished herself and DANA by focusing on community-based organizations that advance equity and fairness throughout Delaware communities,” the judges wrote.

The Twin Poets (Nnamdi Chukwuocha & Al Mills)

Twin Poets Al Mills Nnamdi Chukwuocha Mitchell Awards

Al Mills & Nnamdi Chukwuocha | PHOTO COURTESY OF JOE DEL TUFO | MOONLOOP PHOTOGRAPHY

Brothers Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Al Mills are also known as The Twin Poets, a spoken word duo that has earned acclaim as the state’s former poet laureates who have performed at the Delaware Humanities Forum, the Walt Whitman Arts Center, the HBO Def Poetry national and international tours, and at the Philadelphia Art Museum. Their poems have given a voice to Wilmington’s residents and brought recognition to the city’s arts.

“It is hard to describe the notable impact of the Twin Poets in Delaware, but we consider them the voice of a generation. Their lyrical exhibitions have told the story of under-resourced communities and schools in Delaware and have inspired countless activists for over 30 years. They are artists, but they are also notable public servants. Their 2015 appointment as Delaware’s Poet Laureates was historic but symbolic of their life’s work – art as a tool for social change,” the Awards Committee wrote.

Drew Fennell & Lisa Goodman

Lisa Goodman Drew Fennell Women's Hall of Fame Mitchell Awards

Lisa Goodman, left, and Drew Fennell | PHOTO COURTESY OF GOVERNOR’S OFFICE

Drew Fennell and Lisa Goodman were the first couple to be joined in a civil union in Delaware in 2012, and the moment was a culmination of a lifetime of work by the two women for the civil rights and representation of the LGTBQ+ community in the First State. Fennell, a former leader of the state American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter and a chief of staff to former Gov. Jack Markell, and Goodman, a leader of Equality Delaware, advocated for the passage of the civil union law that led to today’s gay marriage law.

“Drew and Lisa are among the most iconic power couples in Delaware. Both practicing lawyers, they worked for decades to expand civil liberties for all and have challenged the courts and the legislature in ways that have dramatically expanded the legal protections for the otherwise disenfranchised. Their work on gay marriage is one example, but it is only one. Drew’s work at the ACLU of Delaware was wide-ranging and focused on racial profiling, workplace discrimination, redlining, and much more. As chair of the Delaware State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and founding president of Equality Delaware, Lisa remains a no-nonsense advocate in Delaware’s legislative hall,” the Awards Committee wrote.

Ernesto “Ernie” Lopez

Ernesto Ernie Lopez State Senate Mitchell Awards

Ernie Lopez | PHOTO COURTESY OF STATE OF DELAWARE

Retired Republican State Sen. Ernesto “Ernie” Lopez made history as the first Hispanic American to serve in Delaware’s upper chamber when he was elected in 2012 and serving for a decade. Among his legislative accomplishments: a state Constitutional Amendment to enshrine protection against discrimination based on race, color, and national origin as a fundamental right, and opening medical marijuana treatment to epileptic children.

“Senator Lopez was a legislator who gave voice to his constituents and the broader Delaware Hispanic community. He served with distinction during his time with the legislature and was never afraid to cross the aisle. He believes in institutions that create equitable access to opportunity and has never taken for granted his personal story and its importance to so many throughout our community,” the Awards Committee wrote.

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