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Meet the Awardees

The 2019 Racial Justice Awardees are individuals and organizations that have demonstrated their commitment to racial equity through their efforts to build community, conduct research, shift policies, raise awareness, and empower people of color and immigrants.

Skip to individual bios by clicking the following links:

Casa San Jose
Brandi Fisher
Mikael Owunna
Nicol Porter
Michelle Sandidge
Juel Thomas-Smith

Community resource center Casa San José wins the Racial Advocacy Award, which recognizes social justice initiatives that empower women and girls of color through policy change, public testimony on racial equity, and structural change within institutions. Casa’s work with Latino immigrants to access services, support their rights, and educate the service community about their needs interrupts the status quo, shifts public norms, and influences racially inclusive perspectives.


The Bridge Builder Award recognizes an individual or group that advances policies and support for racial and immigrant justice. Founder and President of the Alliance for Police accountability, Brandi Fisher wins this award for her work to improve relations between law enforcement and the community in the service of justice for youth and people of color. Her accomplishments include: spearheading the movement to replace the abusive former principle of Woodland Hills High School, participating in writing the legislation to decriminalize marijuana in the City of Pittsburgh, and convening leaders from the Black and Jewish communities to address disparities in the responses to the Tree of Life synagogue shooting and tragedies in the Black community.

Nigerian-Swedish artist-engineer Mikael Owunna wins the Creativity and Innovation Award, which recognizes artistic or social media initiatives that bring public attention to issues of race, empowering audiences through awareness, innovation, and inspiration. Mr. Owunna’s work centers around identity, imagining new universes and realities for marginalized communities around the globe while using his multidisciplinary skills to bend artistic media.

The Common Ground Award recognizes an individual or group that has launched a grassroots effort to engage people of different racial backgrounds through outreach, community conversations, and coalition building. Reverend Nicol Porter wins the Common Ground Award for her cross-cultural work as ordained minister and musical director at Eastminster Presbyterian Church. Some of her recent activities include co-presenting on “Racial Justice and Reconciliation in Worship” at Eastminster Presbyterian Church and participating in the video documentary A Conversation with Sybrina Fulton (mother of Trayvon Martin).


Also a recipient of the Bridge Builder Award, Michelle Sandidge has worked through the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh to create and oversee numerous programs that improve the quality of life for Pittsburgh residents, and in particular public housing youth and families. Ms. Sandidge is a former public housing resident whose devotion to urban youth is demonstrated by the many resources that she has developed to serve young public housing residents. She is also very involved with Clean Slate E3, which provides enriching programs and scholarship opportunities for public housing youth.

The Change Maker Award recognizes an individual or a group whose academic scholarship, research, focus groups, or unconventional approach tackles racism. Juel Thomas-Smith wins this award for her 20 years of actively promoting STEM education for minorities. She is an educator, mentor, community advocate, and ordained minister who works as the Interim Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Natural Sciences at CCAC Boyce Campus. Among her achievements, Ms Thomas-Smith is Co-Director of CampBioE, a bioengineering and regenerative medicine summer camp that has helped to awaken over 1,000 junior and senior high school students’ interest in science.

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Did you know?

According to the Center for Disease Control, African American women are over three times more likely to be murdered with a gun than white women.

Read more about YWCA's position on gun violence.

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