Chosen from across Anne Arundel County, six trailblazing women will be honored during the 23rd annual Fannie Lou Hamer Awards Reception, held Sunday, Oct. 7, at 4 p.m. at the Frances Scott Key Auditorium at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md. The reception celebrates the late civil rights heroine, Fannie Lou Hamer, as well as local civil rights heroes. Known for impacting their community through social justice or community outreach, each woman made a lasting mark on the Anne Arundel County community. Each of this year’s honorees—Amy Cruice, Argo Duenas, Leah Frazier, Vickie Gipson, Erika Johnson, and Kathleen Johnson—join the ranks of more than 100 notable women, including former Sen. Barbara Mikulski. Of note are Argo Duenas and Kathleen Johnson: Duenas is a military veteran and the first African American woman to establish a holistic health and wellness center in Annapolis. Kathleen Johnson, like Hamer, was one of the original marchers in the 1963 March on Washington, and continues her social activism to this day—even in her eighties. Other special guests will include Congressman John P. Sarbanes, Mayor Gavin Buckley, Annapolis Alderwoman Elly Tierney, and St. John’s College President Panayiotis Kanelos. A buffet reception will immediately follow the program. Tickets are $35 in advance, and will also be available at the door, with proceeds benefiting the Civil Rights Foot Soldier Memorial in Annapolis. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 301.538.6353 or 443-871-5656 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Facebook pages; MLKMD or Carl Snowden for event details.
The event is sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Anne Arundel County and co-sponsored by St. John’s College. Many previous winners will be in attendance and recognized. Other invited special guests include Congressman Anthony Brown, Senator Chris Van Holland, Senator Ben Cardin and Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch.
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was an American voting rights activist, civil rights leader, and philanthropist. The awards that bear her name recognize women from various racial backgrounds who, while not necessarily household names, have excelled in their chosen fields while working diligently to improve civil and human rights in the region.
“Mrs. Hamer was a feminist and a civil rights heroine,” said Carl Snowden, chair of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee. “Each year, on the eve of her birthday, Marylanders pause to honor this Mississippi native, a sharecropper, who shared a passion for economic and social justice.” A committee of community residents choose six outstanding women each year from a list of nominees who live and/or or work in Anne Arundel County. Anne Arundel is the only jurisdiction in the State of Maryland to celebrate Hamer’s memory with awards of this nature.
“We are living right now in a world that is fighting for change on many levels, from social unrest in our cities, to expansive international crises,” said former Sen. Mikulski, a 2009 Hamer honoree. “And while the news may seem grim, there is inspiration every day around the world as people come together to bring about peaceful change.”
Amy Cruice of Annapolis is the legal program manager and director of the Know Your Rights training program for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. (ACLU-MD) In addition to ACLU legal department responsibilities, she also organizes the ACLU-MD’s Election Protection campaign for statewide and national elections. As the ACLU representative on the Baltimore Civilian Review Board, Cruice lends her voice for police accountability. Cruice began her career with the ACLU-MD as a case investigator and community organizer on the Eastern Shore 18 years ago, focusing on police misconduct, prisoners’ rights, race-based discrimination, and voting rights. Beyond her work with the ACLU, Cruice works with the Caucus of African American Leaders and Eastport Working Together, volunteers for the South Sudan Hope Network, tutors ESL at Esperanza Center, and participates in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, through which she has run 25 marathons and ultra-marathons, and has raised more than $20,000.
Annapolis native Argo Duenas is the founder and owner of “Back to Nature Health & Wellness Center, LLC,” as well as a certified colon hydrotherapist, foot reflexologist, and Reiki practitioner. Duenas’ community-based health center provides holistic therapies, detoxification programs, nutritional counseling, seminars, and workshops and works to empower clients with information to prevent and reverse chronic diseases. Today, “Back to Nature” is a thriving center that serves Annapolis. Duenas also hosts local public access wellness talk show, “Your Health Is Your Wealth,” the first show in Annapolis to offer alternative approaches to traditional health care. Duenas received certifications and training from Crownsville State Hospital, Anne Arundel Community College, Woods Hygienic Institute, and St. John’s Natural Academy of Healing and Science.
Duenas’ comprehensive background doesn’t end with healthcare: In 1978, she enlisted in the Army, serving three years in Germany before transitioning to civilian service at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and, later, the U.S. Naval Academy to work in computer services. In the mid-1990s, she worked with the Aris T. Allen Learning Center and Prep Cook and Child Care Provider training program to provide educational training for adults. Duenas is also a licensed real estate agent in Maryland. Today, Duenas is a member of the International Association for Colon Hydrotherapy and the NAACP. Previously, she was a member of the American Business Women Association, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner committee, served on the board of the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Anne Arundel County, and was a contributing writer for health articles for the Annapolis Times Magazine. Duenas has volunteered with the Annapolis High School Career Development Program, the Parole Mills Elementary School Career Day, and Light of the World Family Ministries’ Gems and Jewels after-school program. In 2013, she was honored by the Community Health Center at Parole for her many years of community service.
Leah Frazier of Crofton is an attorney and mother, has lived most of her life in Anne Arundel County and is a proud graduate of Annapolis High School. After earning her law degree from George Washington University Law School, Frazier served as a law clerk to the Honorable William S. Cooper of the Supreme Court of Kentucky, where she handled criminal matters. Today, Frazier works at the Federal Trade Commission in the Bureau of Consumer Protection, where she focuses on financial services. In this capacity, Frazier has prosecuted numerous civil law enforcement actions against individuals and entities that prey on financially distressed consumers. She also serves as an organizer with We Persist–Women of Greater Anne Arundel, which focuses on amplifying women’s voices in politics and works toward justice and equality for all. Previously, Frazier served as president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of the Greater Washington, D.C., Area, which is the oldest and largest association of Asian Pacific American attorneys in the Washington-metro area.
Vickie Gipson, a longtime resident of Annapolis, is an advocate for social change and justice and has worked with the Caucus of African American Leaders, the Anne Arundel County Branch of the NAACP, the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, and various other local community and social justice organizations. Gipson is a lawyer and has worked as a legal professional for 30 years, specializing in issues related to wills and estates, contracts, real estate, business, nonprofit, and civil rights. Currently, she is a candidate for judge of the Anne Arundel County Orphans Court. If elected, Gipson will be the first African American Democrat to hold this position and the second African American in the history of the Court.
Erika Johnson of Annapolis is an alumna of Morgan State University (MSU) in Baltimore. While at MSU, Johnson developed the idea for the mentoring program, Pretty Girl Academy (PGA), Inc., designed to help teenage girls achieve personal goals throughout the school year. Attendees are taught to recognize their own beauty and self-worth and are challenged to become better versions of themselves. Founded in 2015, PGA started with a class of 12 girls, ages 11 to 16. PGA currently has 36 members, 13 mentors, and an ongoing wait list of potential candidates. PGA built its curriculum around the idea that exposure is beneficial to healthy growth, which is why the program has a biennial summer trip, allowing the girls to leave their hometowns for a new adventure. Attendees have traveled to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and plan to visit Atlanta, Ga., in 2019. Additionally, four members of PGA are on the road to being accepted into a college after their senior year. Future plans for PGA include multiple after-school programs within the Anne Arundel Public School System.
Originally from New Jersey, Kathleen Johnson, of Laurel, retired from the Rutgers University Library as a business administrator after 20 years, and eventually moved to Maryland to be near her three grandchildren. Johnson is a member of the Anne Arundel West County Democrat Club and has participated in several of the club’s campaigns. Age is no obstacle for Johnson: Although she is more than 80 years old, Johnson recently helped campaign for the Maryland House of Delegates election in 2018. Social activism is personal to Johnson, who has participated in civic engagement and peaceful protest marches for the past 50 years. Johnson stood on the front lines of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous 1963 March on Washington, participated in the 50-year anniversary of the March on Washington in 2013, and more recently, was part of the Right to Vote March and the Hands Across America March.
Fannie Lou Hamer was the last of 20 children born to Mississippi sharecropper parents. She was instrumental in organizing MississippiFreedom Summerfor the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee(SNCC), and later became the vice-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, attending the 1964 Democratic National Conventionin Atlantic City, N.J., in that capacity.
Her plainspoken manner and fervent belief in the Biblical righteousness of her cause gained her a reputation as an electrifying speaker. She ran for Congressin 1964 and 1965, and was seated as a member of Mississippi’s official delegation to the Democratic National Convention of 1968, where she was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War.
Hamer also worked on other projects, including grassroots-level Head Start programs, the Freedom Farm Cooperative in Sunflower County, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign. Hamer died at the age of 57. Her tombstone is engraved with one of her famous quotes, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
The Annapolis-based Martin Luther King Jr. Committee Inc., founded in 1988, hosts two major events each year. The first is the annual Fannie Lou Hamer Reception in October honoring woman of different racial backgrounds who have made contributions to the community. The second event is the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner held in January to honor those local citizens whose leadership in civil rights has helped keep Dr. King’s legacy alive. The proceeds from these events is being used to pay off the debt incurred by building the Civil Rights Foot Soldiers Memorial.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Committee has successfully placed three memorials to the legacy of King in Anne Arundel County funded by private donations. A bronze statue of King was erected at Anne Arundel Community College in 2006 after the Committee raised more than $250,000. In 2011, the Committee dedicated a plaque and garden tribute to King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, at the then Sojourner Douglass College in Edgewater, Md. In 2013, the Committee erected a monument in Annapolis to the Civil Rights Foot Soldiers who marched in the famous 1963 “I have a dream” civil rights march on Washington.
Marc Apter is a member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Anne Arundel County.