Jennifer Murry-Rodley and Vanessa Rodley

Jennifer Murry-Rodley (left) and Vanessa Rodley (right)

for a woman who, facing active opposition,
backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed:

Jennifer Murry-Rodley and Vanessa Rodley

Who doesn’t love a parade? Vanessa Rodley and wife Jennifer Murry-Rodley certainly do! They watched from the sidewalk at their first Pride parade in Memphis. Then in 2010 they became volunteers. In 2023, with Vanessa as President of Memphis Pride and Jennifer as Vice-President, Pride events reached over 63,000 people, the largest attendance ever in the Mid-South.

This year’s Women of Achievement Courage Award is not for putting on a parade but rather for taking part in an uphill struggle, to be fought on two fronts, against the well-organized forces of hate and intolerance.

Ask yourself this question: Does it require more courage to express who you are on a public street, knowing that in the crowd are those who threaten you and everyone like you? Or to be a witness, to stand up for your right to speak freely and openly? We say both take equal amounts of courage.

First, their story: Vanessa, California born and raised, met Jennifer, a native Memphian, in 2001 when Vanessa moved to Memphis with a friend. In early 2002, they became a committed couple, a date they still celebrate. They soon moved to Los Angeles to be near Vanessa’s family. In 2007 they returned to Memphis, where they now live in Cooper-Young, near Jennifer’s childhood home.

Did I mention they were married in 2014?

They have much in common. Both grew up in homes where advocacy was expected. Vanessa’s grandparents, especially her grandmother, raised funds and sat on community boards. In Cooper-Young, Jennifer’s two moms were active in the PTA and with Girl Scouts.

Jennifer and Vanessa became active in Friends of George’s, a theatre company named after the beloved Memphis drag bar. As Mid-South Pride volunteers, they raised money and good will by serving plates of food and jello shots at local bars such as Dru’s and the Pumping Station.

When Pride established a board in 2012, Vanessa became Vice-President and Jennifer became Secretary. Pride, and the parade, thrived, But being out in Memphis attracts attention. From the beginning, threats were always in the air, but when the parade moved Downtown and attendance tripled, the threats escalated. Both remember 2019 especially; The Proud Boys, The Black Israelites, The Aryan Nation, and others openly hostile to the LGBTQ+ community. The Club Q mass shootings in Colorado in 2022 brought a whole new level of fear and anxiety.

Here’s what you don’t see but is behind the scenes at a Pride parade:

Security teams on high alert before and after Pride. Volunteers walking through the parade route, discussing what to do in worst-case scenarios. Check-ins throughout the day to make sure everyone is okay.

But what do you do when those who hate and fear you don’t hide in the shadows of the internet or anonymously in a crowd? In early 2023, Governor Bill Lee signed into law the Adult Entertainment Act as passed by the Tennessee Legislature. The intent was to make drag shows illegal. Friends of George’s (FOG) challenged the law and Jennifer became the face of that challenge.

Those defending the law deposed one witness: Jennifer. She recalls the questions were not about how she viewed her rights under the Constitution, but were crudely suggestive, invasive questions about her sexuality. She recalls the advice she was given; take a deep breath and a sip of water then be a witness for what is right.

Trump-appointed Federal Judge Thomas Parker overturned the law, saying: “Freedom of speech is not just about speech. It is also about the right to debate with fellow citizens on self-government, to discover the truth in the marketplace of ideas, to express one’s identity, and to realize self-fulfillment in a free society.” 

But with the victory came national attention; from Rolling Stone Magazine, TMZ, The New York Times, MSNBC. And there was a price. Jennifer was celebrated for leading the fight. And targeted, through social media. Their home address was revealed. Threatening letters arrived. Cameras were installed and for a time security vehicles were parked in the driveway. Yet they continued.

Besides their commitment to the LGBTQ community, both women have day jobs. Vanessa is operations manager for New Urban Media while Jennifer is a neo-natal ICU nurse at Baptist Women’s Hospital. They hope, In the future, to have children.

Early in their lives, Vanessa and Jennifer each learned to speak up. They have faced threats made in person, by mail and on social media. Yet they continue to courageously speak out for fairness, justice and human rights. And for that we honor them.

Anne Stone Carriere

Women of Achievement

for a woman who, facing active opposition,
backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed:

Anne Stone Carriere

We honor the Rev. Anne Stone Carriere as the first woman to be ordained a priest in the West Tennessee Diocese of the Episcopal Church. During a time of doctrinal upheaval, she pursued her calling in life with quiet courage and broke ground for women in the clergy for generations to come.

Anne was raised Catholic but at 16 she left to seek a new church for herself. A year later she found her home at Grace St. Luke’s.

Anne began her adult life as many women do. First, education. She earned a degree from Vanderbilt University and began teaching. After marriage and the birth of two daughters, she became a full-time mother and active volunteer.  But she realized something was missing.

In 1976, with friends, she attended a workshop on “What do I want to be when I grow up?”  Aptitude tests showed that Anne would make a great bartender or house mother. Clearly not right, but the process got her thinking. What might give her life meaning? She realized the answer had been there all along: her church. 

Her timing seemed ideal. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church had approved the ordination of women to the priesthood in 1976 and began ordaining women in 1977.

When Anne spoke to her rector, no Episcopalian woman had ever been ordained a parish priest in the state of Tennessee. “If you want to be a priest, you’ll have to talk to the bishop,” he said.  Anne did just that and the bishop approved. 

So Anne’s trailblazing road to the priesthood began. Despite the opportunity there were familiar roadblocks ahead and the process took five years.

Anne wanted to attend the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN.  But while the bishop was progressive, he was also paternalistic and told her to remain in Memphis to support her husband’s career and not disrupt her family. Initially her husband wasn’t so sure either. How would he feel in a business suit with a wife in a collar? He got over it. But as Anne points out, had she been a man, it would be assumed that the family would move.

Instead of going to Sewanee, she read for the orders under tutors while earning a Masters of Divinity from Memphis Theological Seminary. In that wonderful diverse environment, the few women students created their own long-lasting support system.

Anne was ordained deacon in 1981 by West Tennessee Bishop Fred Gates. Grace-St. Luke’s was packed with Memphis clergy, friends and people who read about it in the paper.

The Episcopal Church had gone centuries without ordaining women and there were plenty who still didn’t approve. To lessen controversy, Anne was assigned to her home church.

In 1982, Anne was ready for ordination to the priesthood. Three weeks before, with invitations printed, Bishop of Tennessee William Sanders phoned. He had heard a rumor that if ordained, her husband would divorce her. Hold the invitations! Sanders came to Memphis to meet with the couple and again, the ordination was on. Bishop Gates refused to officiate so Bishop Sanders returned for the service.

Anne served at Grace-St. Luke’s for nine years in a variety of supporting roles.

Ready for more responsibility, she asked that her name be put in for consideration as rector. She heard later the approving bishop thought she would never be called, but he was wrong. Anne answered the call of The Church of the Holy Apostles in Hickory Hills, becoming the first female priest to serve as rector in the Diocese of West Tennessee.

The parish was struggling financially and with shrinking membership. Anne brought in young families and expanded membership. She stayed seven years. That last year Anne worked to create an open affirming environment, knowing that small acts are the beginning of big changes. 

In 1996, Anne resigned, her husband retired and they moved to Arkansas where she assisted at St. Andrews Episcopal in Mountain Home. She became their rector in 1998. She retired in 2003 to travel the country in an RV with her husband.

After his death in 2016, she returned to Memphis and to Grace-St. Luke’s, the church that supported her on her journey to the priesthood.    

Anne has mentored many women. While more are enrolled in seminary than when Anne was attending, she notes there is still a very real glass ceiling; that women graduates are much more likely to be in associate roles than leading congregations. More barriers remain to be broken and Anne’s courage lights the way.

Mildred Richard-Edwards


for a woman who, facing active opposition,
backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed:

Mildred Richard-Edwards

Born to a drug addicted mother, at the age of 12, Mildred dropped out of school to care for her twin siblings who had been abandoned. They had not yet reached their first birthday. In 2000 Mildred Richard-Edwards found out she was HIV+ after she gave birth to her son, due to a pregnancy that was a result of rape.

Mildred was overwhelmed. She felt alone, ashamed and unworthy of love. She would accept help from no one, not even her best friend.

She was referred to Hope House. There she met staff members Maria Randall and Melissa White. For the first time she met other women like herself. There she learned how to live with HIV and she earned her GED. She says the support she received was phenomenal.

Hope House was having a Hopes and Dreams luncheon to raise funds for a new space.

Maria asked her to speak but she said no. Maria told her it would only be a few people. She still said no. But finally she agreed.

When she got to the University Holiday Inn, the room was packed. She was terrified but Maria convinced her she could do it and stood by her side as she spoke. She cried as she talked and so did many of those listening. She won a standing ovation and was then hugged by lots of strangers. She’d thought that since becoming HIV+ she couldn’t be touched by others. The experience was life-changing and she’s been speaking about living with HIV ever since.

Her mother didn’t love her. After her diagnosis she became estranged from her father. She believed that she didn’t deserve love. Yet for one year, the man who became her husband left roses on her doorstep every morning. She was living with a mentally ill aunt and 4 children and on their first date he took her and all the kids. They married in 2003 and he has supported her in her work ever since.

Mildred is a tireless advocate on behalf of people living with HIV, counseling them through Hope House and Friends for Life. She has been a peer mentor, patient navigator and case manager, often taking calls herself in the middle of the night. Though no longer working for those groups, she is still part of the family. And her clients are still with her. “You don’t leave someone who is living with HIV,” she says.

Mildred received the annual National Public Citizen of the Year Award in 2016 from the National Association of Social Workers for her outstanding work advocating on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS. She continually pushes for better care for people living with the disease and shows them they can live full lives.

Mildred is founder of “My Sista’s Keeper,” which started as a small group for women living with HIV or caring for someone who is living with HIV. The group has now grown to over 80 women who meet monthly. Some are HIV+ and some are not but they all share problems and concerns. She provides a meal. Mildred describes it as Girls Night Out with an edge.

Her siblings and son are grown. She now works for a pharmaceutical company, traveling to teach people how to live successfully and even happily with HIV. She continues to tell her story and in fact will be doing so at Vanderbilt this week.

A force of nature, Mildred Richard-Edwards courageously speaks out as a person living with HIV, despite societal stigma. We honor her courage which has transformed countless lives.

Kamillia Barton


For a woman who, facing active opposition, backed an unpopular cause in which she greatly believed:

Kamillia Barton

Kamillia Barton survived a traumatic childhood, found the courage to escape an abusive marriage, and has gone forward to become a fighter in the battle to help others struggling to remove themselves from domestic violence.

When she was nine years old, Kamillia realized that her parents were addicted to drugs. Off and on throughout her childhood she and her siblings lived with various family members. At times the family was homeless. Kamillia would stand outside corner stores asking for money to buy food her siblings and herself. Many nights they went hungry. After she and her sister were held hostage at gunpoint by drug dealers, they entered the foster care system. Kamillia stayed until age 15. She left foster care to live with an aunt. It was another negative environment. She dropped out of school in the ninth grade and by age 17 had moved into a place of her own. She supported herself with jobs in the fast food industry and started seeing a man ten years older.

They married and together had two children, now both teenagers. Her husband became verbally, psychologically and physically abusive. Over the years the abuse continued. She would call the police but he was always gone when they arrived. She was told that because there was no crime, they could do nothing. She never followed up and he was never charged.

But in 2010, her life threatened, she took the children and they left, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. At the time, she worked for a furniture company and her employer gave her free furniture. As it turned out, the gift was not free and soon she was again in an abusive situation and once more found herself and her daughters being threatened. She stayed because she saw it as the way to support her daughters.

But In December, 2012, she fled Memphis and found safe haven with her uncle in Sledge, Mississippi. She wanted to work on her GED and in discussing her plans with supportive family and friends, she decided to return to Memphis and its resources. She made her way to the Family Safety Center and credits Melissa Farrar and Felica Richard for helping her find the strength to work with the Center to keep her family safe and gave her hope.

Since that time Kamillia Barton has transformed her life. She has completed her GED, graduated from Southwest Community College, and is now studying social work at the University of Memphis. She has worked as a victim’s advocate for the Family Safety Center and the YWCA Immigrant Woman Services Blue Print for Safety program.

A tireless volunteer, she has participated in the Rhodes Mentoring Program, the Lemoyne Owen College Domestic Violence Awareness, St. Jude’s Domestic Violence Awareness and the Southwest Community College Violence Awareness programs, to name just a few.

Wanting to increase her effectiveness, Kamillia has participated in numerous trainings and seminars on topics including advocacy training, facilitations skills, nonprofit leadership, representing LGBTQDV victims, teen dating and violence preventions and child sexual abuse prevention and response.

In November, 2016, Kamillia founded and became first executive director of STEPS, Successful Transitions Empowering Permanent Safety, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse. Through STEPS, she works to help families dealing with domestic violence through situations she has faced and overcome. To achieve maximum effectiveness, STEPS maintains strong external relations with partner organizations, volunteers and other supporters in the community. Her goal is that people seeking to survive and escape abusive relationships do not slip through the cracks. She connects individuals with local resources. For meetings with social services agencies, legal services, medical appointments, the search for housing, or help with finances, she goes with them as is their personal advocate, available 24/7. If for some reason she can’t go, she makes sure they have Uber or Lyft.

Kamillia’s dream is for STEPS to serve the many. She would like to have a facility to house those in need, a safe place to live in a more permanent environment than shelters can provide until lives are stabilized and on track. She understands the importance of being able to deliver promised services so for now information about the program is spread by word of mouth. Though basically a one woman operation, STEPS has already served over 30 clients. As resources grow, services will expand.

As a courageous survivor, she is passionate. Kamillia says, “I believe my entire life has prepared me for advocacy and working with individuals who have faced trauma and adversity…Fortunately, I beat the odds. I am not what studies and statistics said I could be. Therefore, I am confident your past does not determine your future; your life’s challenges and traumatic experiences are not in control of your destiny…My greatest passion now is in advocacy. I love to motivate and inspire victims to become survivors and to have hope. It is my calling, and now my life mission.”

Kamillia Barton stands up and speaks out at every opportunity. And Women of Achievement thank her for having the courage to do so.

Cristina Condori


for a woman who, facing active opposition,
backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed:

Cristina Condori

Domestic worker, wife and mother, Cristina Condori is an immigrant from Argentina who places her beliefs on the line.

Since moving to Memphis almost a decade ago, she and her family have faced numerous obstacles. Economically, times are hard and they struggle monthly to make ends meet. Her husband lost his job in Memphis and currently works out of town. Her former clients can now only afford help once or twice a month so she constantly hands out cards and flyers seeking opportunities for housekeeping and childcare work. She barely earns $240 per week to help support a household that includes two daughters, a brother and a guest.

Her two daughters are both excellent students involved in many different volunteer activities. And Cristina has also been working to improve her English and takes every opportunity to practice.

Yet, Cristina somehow finds many hours every week to do what she can to bring greater justice to others who have been in situations similar to her own.

She volunteers with Workers Interfaith Network, and Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, as well as many other groups dealing with justice issues, women’s issues, and health causes.

Cristina’s convictions are strong, so strong that she was willing to take the fight for freedom and the rights of citizenship in the United States to Washington, D. C. There, on September 12, 2013, she joined women from 20 states to blockade the intersection outside of the House of Representatives to protest the House’s inaction on comprehensive immigration reform to treat women and children fairly.

Cristina and the other women were prepared to be arrested and arrested they were. This historic act of civil disobedience included the largest number of undocumented immigrant women to ever willingly submit to arrest. The 105 women who were arrested wanted to draw attention to the fact that women and children constitute three-quarters of immigrants of the United States and disproportionately bear the burden of the failed immigration system.

On her blog the next day, Cristina said “The decision and oath that we took together was a great action… Women of all ages, professions and immigration status sat in the street under a hot morning sun of Washington, D.C., in front of the Capitol and Senate as part of a civil disobedience for a Comprehensive Immigration Reform that is fair and humane. We were there for the people we love and for all those who suffer from this immigration system that is broken and that continues to divide families. It was about OUR freedom! But also it was about the freedom of all immigrants, of all children who were separated from their parents, of all workers who were and will continue to be deported each and every day….”

One of her nominators, Rev. Rebekah Jordan Gienapp, herself a Woman of Achievement for Determination honoree for seeking fairness for workers, says Cristina Condori is ”one of the most determined, energetic, and brave women that I have ever known…She is truly a leader, inspiring other immigrants to take risks and speak out for greater justice.”

Participating in civil disobedience for a just cause takes courage. It is an intimidating prospect for anyone, but for an immigrant so much more is at risk than for a citizen.

Cristina Condori truly deserves to be honored for her commitment to work on behalf of immigration reform and her courage to stand up for her beliefs.


Christina Condori continues to aid refugees fleeing from Mexico and Central America.

June Mann Averyt


for a woman who, facing active opposition,
backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed:

June Mann Averyt

An individual sleeping in a doorway or bumming a cigarette in a church parking lot or pushing a beat-up grocery cart toward an abandoned building prompts most of us to shake our heads at the overwhelming problem of homelessness. We wonder about the person’s plight and debate whether we should do something.

June Averyt looks past the questions and just sees a potential friend.

A true advocate for people living on the street, her work goes beyond advocacy: She pursues personal relationships with people most of the rest of us fear or shun.

Pat Morgan, executive director of Partners for the Homeless and a social services colleague, put it this way: “June Averyt has her Ph.D. in social welfare, but it should really read as a doctorate of philosophy in homelessness as this has been her major focus for years. June does more than study homelessness and homeless people. She literally devotes her life to developing relationships with street-dwelling people with severe and persistent mental illness, chronic substance abuse problems, and/or dual diagnoses of mental illness and substance abuse. She uses trust to persuade them to accept housing and non-traditional services.”

June’s postgraduate work began at the University of Georgia, where she obtained a Master of Social Work in 1993. As she worked toward her doctorate, she amassed a variety of educational and work experiences in Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York and Tennessee. Internships with the Georgia legislature and Jewish Federation of Atlanta put her in a position to affect legislation and allocate grants. A four-year fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania Department of Psychiatry provided the opportunity to study mental health policies and to do ground-breaking research. She has taught, performed research, published articles and made many professional presentations. Her career took her to Manhattan where she worked for The Samaritans of New York, including three years as executive director. From 2000 to 2002, she worked as director of social services for the Salvation Army in Memphis, starting four new programs in 18 months.

Winning her doctorate degree came at the same time that June decided to fully pursue her interest in the homeless. She joined an ad-hoc movement among Midtown churches seeking to help the homeless. After two years of study the coalition launched a new nonprofit called Door of Hope and hired June as executive director.

Door of Hope’s mission is to provide a welcoming place where people on the streets can learn healthy living skills and build positive relationships. June calls it servanthood in action. That, according to Pat Morgan, describes June to a “T.”

“She puts people in her car, takes them to appointments, to apply for housing or just to their favorite haunts. When the people she has befriended become too ill to sleep outdoors in freezing weather, she has been known to open her home to some of the most fragile.” That’s true, says June’s husband Murray McKay, who married June two years ago on Valentine’s Day. “Taking someone in may be unusual, but it doesn’t seem extraordinary to us. We focus on
the fact that the person needs help.”

Murray says June’s work amounts to a religious calling. He adds that June had perfect models in her parents, both of whom spent time and fortune helping the needy and the mentally ill.


June Averyt left Door of Hope in 2011 and founded Outreach, Housing & Community. State social workers gave her the 2016 Social Worker Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dr. June Averyt passed away April 30, 2016 as a result of a long illness.

Pat Morgan


for a woman who, facing active opposition,
backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed:

Pat Morgan

In the Memphis area, 6,000 homeless men, women and children are fed and sheltered from local service agencies. We see them on the streets and at intersections wearing ragged dirty clothes that look as if they’ve been slept in. We fear contact with them, thinking they’ll ask us for a handout or worse yet, try to rob us. We don’t want shelters or services in our neighborhoods and organize against them to keep the homeless off “our” streets. We fail to make eye-contact, much less stop to listen to their stories. Pat Morgan, Executive Director of Partners for the Homeless, is a woman with the courage to both listen and act on their behalf.

Pat’s story starts the typical way; a Donna Reed Mom whose marriage falters transforms into the single mother of three, struggling to keep things afloat. Pat was working as a real estate broker when she volunteered to help two hours per week at the Downtown Church Association’s Food Pantry. From there she moved to the Street Ministry and the work became her passion. She listened to stories of untreated addiction, abuse and mental illness and realized that what is needed is a “continuum of care.”  She attended more meetings and became more active. When a friend told her that for someone so smart she was ignorant, she went back to school. She graduated from Rhodes College in 1991, at age 51.

Long active in the Democratic party, she believed that the solutions to homelessness are political. After graduation she interned in Al Gore’s office then survived on a variety of temp jobs. When Clinton announced for president, she quit her job to join the campaign. “Pat’s Excellent Adventure” included time on the bus in New Hampshire and tromping through snow with much younger campaign workers. She became co-director of the Washington Operations Office.

After the election she was appointed Program Analyst at the U.S. Interagency Council on the Homeless. Working closely with Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Special Needs Programs, Pat brought her experiences in front-line service delivery to the table. She spent 6 ½ years working with the White House Domestic Policy Council.

In 1999, Pat returned to Memphis to be closer to her family. She became Executive Director for Partners for the Homeless, a public-private partnership begun in 1995. The group’s mission is to coordinate, develop and implement solutions for homelessness in Memphis and Shelby County. She is now working with representatives from 55 organizations to create a holistic intervention program targeting 20,000 at-risk households. She has secured $5 million from HUD for local Continuum of Care applications. She serves on the state council for creating a plan to end homelessness in Tennessee.

Though she now works primarily in program development, policy and service delivery, Pat has not forgotten the people she met through Calvary’s Street Ministry. She still goes out at 12:30 am looking for people sleeping on the street. She knows their names and histories. She asks questions and really listens to their stories. “I’ve only been mugged twice,” she says, “and not by the homeless.”

It takes courage to walk into the broken lives of these men, women and children and work for holistic solution. Pat Morgan has the passion and the courage to do just that.

Pat Morgan retired in 2011 and published a memoir in 2014 titled The Concrete Killing Fields: One Woman’s Battle to Break the Cycle of Homelessness.

Chelsea Boozer

Women of Achievement

for a woman who, facing active opposition,
backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed:

Chelsea Boozer

Chelsea Boozer was a student journalist and editor in chief of the University of Memphis Helmsman when she began working on stories about unreported rapes on the campus. The resulting struggle for access to public documents and to secure students’ safety led to a battle that threatened the newspaper’s funding and Chelsea’s reputation.

Her steadiness during it all led Candy Justice, faculty advisor of the Helmsman, to say: “Nobody can take her courage away as far as I’ve seen.”

Ironically, Chelsea began her career as a nervous junior high student who liked to write. And she was good. One of her teachers in Marion, Arkansas, even accused her in seventh grade of letting her mom produce a story for her advanced literature class. Her mother had to go attest that the work was actually Chelsea’s!

The journalism bug bit this self-described “news nerd” early – she was editor of the junior high school paper, took a journalism class in high school and edited that newspaper senior year.

She crossed the river to major in journalism at the University of Memphis where she became deeply involved in journalism organizations and the Helmsman while also maintaining strong grades. She was managing editor January to May 2012 and editor in chief May to December 2012 when she graduated first in the College of Communications.

Her drive for the truth led to repeated fights with the university for access to public documents – a right protected by the federal Clery Act which requires universities that receive federal financial aid to disclose information on crimes that occur on or near campus.

She angered faculty and Student Government Association leaders with a three-part series that documented free tuition paid for SGA members and the money-losing football program. Invited to an SGA meeting, she was publicly chastised by the SGA president who got a standing ovation for his remarks, including the dean of students.

But the hostility rose to new levels in March last year when the Helmsman began to write about rape.

First there was a battle for records related to a November assault incident that university officials had not disclosed. Then the student journalists found out about another alleged rape that had happened in March – but again it had not been disclosed. It involved a registered sex offender who was posing as a student and living illegally in university housing.

Chelsea as managing editor and her reporter on the rape story met with campus Police Services and interviewed students at the housing complex – and later faced police reports alleging that they made threats, were rude and hostile, claims Chelsea disputed. In an open letter to Police Services, Chelsea criticized the department for failing to notify students of the March rape.

But when director of residence life and an official from Judicial Affairs met with the newspaper’s faculty advisor, they said there had been discussion of arresting Chelsea. However the Judicial Affairs officer said the police reports – alleging that Chelsea made a scene and refused to leave the campus police office – “didn’t ring true” so there would be no arrest.

The harassment – the pressure brought on Chelsea for doing her job – outraged faculty, alumni and national journalism organizations.

When the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee notified Justice that the Helmsman would receive $50,000 instead of the $75,000 it had the prior year or the $80,000 requested – Helmsman staff and some journalism professors believed it was based on the paper’s critical reporting about the university. She and her faculty advisor alleged the cuts were a First Amendment violation as SGA members retaliated for her work. The allocation committee consists of four university administrators and three students including the SGA president and vice president.

The funding cut infuriated alumni and inspired a website for donations to “Free the Helmsman.”

A university investigation agreed with the Helmsman’s claim and the funding was restored. Last week university President Shirley Raines announced 2013-2014 funding will remain at $75,000.

Chelsea has won numerous awards and was recognized by Memphis Magazine in October 2012 as one of five women who make a difference. She is now is a reporter at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Student Press Law Center director Frank LoMonte called Chelsea “Mike Wallace with molasses syrup – disarming but deadly.” She says her courage came easily “because I knew we were on the truth side and doing something important and really right.”

Deb Whalen Word

Women of Achievement

for a woman who, facing active opposition,
backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed:

Deb Whalen Word

Deb Word is a courageous woman.

A cradle Catholic, she consistently confronts the church hierarchy on its homophobia, communicating with church leaders to insist that her gay son – and other LGBT youth and young adults – be accepted and celebrated by the church.

An active voice and champion for LGBT youth, Deb challenges herself and others to live their faith deeply through her ministry with parents of LGBT children.

She has been a leader on the Youth Service Committee of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, ceaselessly advocating for “discarded” LGBT youth. Within the last year, she and Steve have provided respite for 8 LGBT teens in their own home, ensuring that abandoned and homeless LGBT kids would find a safe haven. Deb also coordinates food collection from area churches for the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center Youth Services food pantry.

Deb created a postcard that she mailed to every Catholic bishop in the United States, urging them to stop denying gay people Communion, stop fighting efforts to pass marriage equality, stop encouraging communities to discriminate against gays and lesbians, and to open their hearts and minds and build a truly inclusive church. She also created a YouTube video directly challenging the actions of an archbishop who refused to provide communion to congregation members wearing rainbow ribbons in memory of LGBT youth suicides.

Deb started a national “wear a rainbow ribbon every Sunday in Advent” campaign, poignantly stating that wearing a rainbow ribbon “reminds those who would deny my child a place at the table that they don’t own the guest list.” Deb and her husband, Steve, are also active leaders in the monthly LGBT potluck at their church, and with the Parent Support Team for the Diocesan Catholic Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Persons. Deb is also on the national board of directors of Fortunate Families, a ministry with Catholic parents of LGBT children.

Deb’s determined and compassionate activism in the face of entrenched and institutional homophobia is truly inspiring to all who know her. She provides a courageous beacon of love and hope for the LGBT kids for whom she so doggedly advocates, and is an example of how one courageous, dedicated woman can truly make a difference.

Amerah Shabazz-Bridges


for a woman who, facing active opposition,
backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed:

Amerah Shabazz-Bridges

As a child, Amerah Shabazz-Bridges lived in the dark shadows of incestuous rape, suffering at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend, a man who rightfully should have been her protector. Now, years later, she courageously tells her story and uses her experience to help others recover from the trauma of abuse.

Beginning at the age of 8 and continuing until she left home at age 15, Amerah was repeatedly abused. Powerless, she did not know how to express her pain and fear. Her mother was also abused while Amerah lay listening in the next room. When she was finally able to tell other adults that she trusted and loved, including her mother, they refused to believe her.

In order to survive, she learned to mask her pain. As a 13-year old she needed validations and wanted to hear someone say, “I believe you,” and “It wasn’t your fault.” Instead she was told “He said he didn’t do it.”

She became a people-pleaser, a manipulator, and was promiscuous. She had learned to survive the best she could.

She finally left home when her abuser cursed and said, in her mother’s presence, that she couldn’t stay if she wouldn’t do what he wanted. She started packing her belongings into empty beer boxes immediately.

As a teenager and young adult she sought peace in the church and at the mosque. Well-meaning people told her to just pray about it; to forgive and forget. She didn’t understand why God had allowed this to happen.

But she continued to search for answers. Amerah says, “My Higher Power heard my moaning and I hesitantly started down the road to recovery.”

She started that journey at the age of 32 when she and her 7 children moved to Chicago.

She moved her family to Washington, DC, in the mid-90s and it was there that Amerah really started telling her story. She found Co-Dependents Anonymous, which led her to Survivors of Incest Anonymous. She volunteered for the Rape Crisis Hotline, consoling women who called the hot line, meeting victims at the hospital, giving speeches aimed at young women, helping them have the courage to face their pain and to heal. Amerah also formed two support groups for women who were victims of incest.

Amerah would read newspaper articles, contact shelters and say, “This is who I am; this is what I do. If I share my story, they may know they can change. We have questions and answers and then healing starts.”

In 1996, Amerah had found enough acceptance to return to Jackson, Mississippi, to care for her mother. She continued her mission of helping others heal and became a court-appointed advocate. She earned a degree at age 66, remarried her first husband the next day and moved to Memphis. Dedicated to the work of healing, she had contacted the Memphis Child Advocacy Center a year before the move. She phoned the center just as soon as she got to town and continued telling her story.

Her work has impacted the lives of countless persons who have been abused, giving them the power to transform their lives. She has won awards for her work in Washington, Jackson and Memphis. And she continues to grow.

She says, “I am like a big onion. I pull off one layer at a time. At first it’s hard and may break but I keep pulling until it becomes so easy that the next layer just slides right off.” That’s how healing works.

Amerah’s openness in telling her story has brought countless rewards to the Child Advocacy Center. She has inspired donors to contribute and has helped police recruits and officers understand family violence in a personal and powerful way. To quote her nominators, “Amerah’s words help us continue to do what we do, to see firsthand the beauty of healing, and to help us remember what is important.”

For her courageous voice – we honor Amerah Shabazz-Bridges.