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2022 HONOREES
Virginia Ali
Bakari Sellers
Charles M. Blow
Denise R. Barnes
THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING: 
COURAGE UNDER FIRE AWARDS
 
The current political, social and financial landscape is toxic for all Americans, but especially for Black Americans. Our system of government is being challenged at every level. The federal courts have become partisan and grown apathetic and even hostile to civil rights. We are fighting to save our rights to a decent life and have an equitable say in the matter. 

Now more than ever, our Democracy is at stake. If we allow our humanity and civil society to regress what will Black America have to endure? It is important that we fully understand the value and impact that Democracy, though not perfect, has on our communities of color.

Historically, the role of the Greater Washington Urban League has been about the survivability of Black people. For 84 years, we have been at the forefront of authentic conversations that need to be had.


Once again at our seminal event the League will be celebrating those who are fighting for our rights. We will honor those who have shown much Courage Under Fire, representing the best and brightest, as they authentically highlight that which we need to know to survive.  We will amplify what it will take to bring wholeness to our community and the nation.

We have designed donation tiers for this event so that you can give in the capacity that best suits you.
 
The Greater Washington Urban League provides the community with housing services, financial therapy, emergency assistance, entrepreneurship development, educational assistance, and family wellness. Your support is crucial to our efforts. 
 
Amidst the political, social, and financial challenges our nation is facing, your support offers hope to our community. We are truly grateful.
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Bakari Sellers

Former South Carolina State Representative

LEADERSHIP IMPACT AWARD

 
 

Best-selling Author and former Politician Bakari Sellers was born into an activist family and raised with a tireless commitment to service. His father, civil rights leader Cleveland Sellers, instilled core values in him that drive him to this day.

Sellers’ most recent book, Who Are Your People? is a children's book inspired by his two 3-year-old twins and was written to teach young Black readers about their history. He is also known for his New York Times Best Seller My Vanishing Country: A Memoir. The book has been described as part memoir, part historical and cultural analysis illustrating the lives of America’s forgotten Black working-class men and women.

He recently expanded his audience with the Bakari Sellers Podcast, a twice-a-week show that is part of The Ringer Podcast Network. His podcasts discuss various topics, including politics, race, sports, media,the presidential campaign, and much more.

Bakari currently practices law with the Strom Law Firm, LLC in Columbia, SC, where he heads the firm’s Strategic Communication and Public Affairs team. He recently added Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consulting to the services offered. Bakari made history in the 2006 South Carolina state legislature as the youngest African American elected official in the nation at the age of 22. His political career did not stop there. In 2014, he was the Democratic Nominee for Lt. Governor in the state of South Carolina. Bakari has also worked for United States Congressman James Clyburn and former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

His accomplishments do not go unnoticed within the Democratic Party. In 2008 he served on President Obama’s South Carolina steering committee. His ability to “reach across the aisle to get things done” has led to numerous achievements, including being named TIME Magazine’s 40 Under 40 and “The Root 100” list of the nation’s most influential African-Americans in 2015 and HBCU Top 30 Under 30 in July 2014. Sellers holds a Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law and a bachelor's degree in African-American Studies from Morehouse College.

Sellers has served as a featured speaker at various Political Events, Universities, and National Trade Organizations across the country, including the 2008 and 2016 Democratic National Conventions.

He is father to twins Sadie and Stokely and husband to Dr. Ellen Rucker-Sellers and - his most important roles.

THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING:  
COURAGE UNDER FIRE AWARDS
 
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Virginia Ali

HUMANITIARIAN AWARD

 
 

Virginia Ali is a truly incredible woman. Her earthly life began on her parents' Virginia farm on December 17th, 1933, and today she is as vibrant as ever. She smiles whenever recounting her fond memories of childhood on the farm, her deep involvement in her family's country church, her college studies at Virginia Union University, and moving to Washington, DC as a young woman to find her destiny.

As her beloved DC community knows so well, Virginia's historic destiny found her the day she met Ben Ali, her husband and partner in life, love, family, and business. The dynamic newlyweds opened the doors of the now iconic Ben's Chili Bowl on August 22, 1958. Today, over 55 years later, this institution has become a place of fond memories for countless friends from DC, Maryland, Virginia, and all around the world.

Known affectionately as "Mom" or Mrs. Ben, Virginia has touched the lives of everyone she has encountered. Although she has achieved near celebrity status, her demeanor has never changed – with all her natural poise and sophistication, she still exemplifies the pure, wholesome values instilled by her parents. She lives a philosophy of giving love and kindness to everyone she meets, and as a result she is cherished and respected in a way that is very rare these days. In fact, at this point she is considered the "Matriarch of U Street" and countless DC residents call her "Mom."

In addition to all the hours she has put in at Ben's Chili Bowl, Virginia has also made time for many other meaningful endeavors. She has served on the Board of Directors of For Love of Children, The Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage, the Islamic Society of the Greater Washington Area, and Cultural Tourism DC among others.

Over the years, Virginia and Ben have received countless awards and accolades including the prestigious America's Classics Restaurant Award from the James Beard Foundation. They were inducted into the DC Hall of Fame in 2002 and were later given the Key to the City by Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty. More recently, the Smithsonian placed Ben’s Chili Bowl on its list of the 20 Most Iconic Food Destinations Across America.

With all that she has accomplished thus far, Virginia isn't resting on her laurels. As her family, friends, and employees will attest, she is a true dynamo who encourages those around her to live fully and strive for excellence in all areas of life. She gives generously of herself and her time, and despite all the recognition and accolades, she is perhaps best known for her kind, loving nature and her very sound wisdom. Virginia is truly a people person, and we are all very thankful for everything she gives us by simply being herself.

THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING:  
COURAGE UNDER FIRE AWARDS
 
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Denise Rolark Barnes

Publisher & Owner, Washington Informer

LEGACY AWARD

 
 

Denise Rolark Barnes is the publisher and second-generation owner of The Washington Informer, a Black women owned organization. We honor Ms. Barnes for her outstanding leadership and lifelong dedication to protecting human rights - securing civil liberties to the highest principles. While she has won the admiration of many Washingtonians, she is also recognized nationally, as a leading newspaper executive and publisher. Ms. Barnes exemplifies the Greater Washington Urban League’s mission to increase the economic and political empowerment of Black and other minorities and to help Americans share equally in the responsibilities and rewards of full citizenship. 

 

As in the African tradition, drums were important in communicating vital messages to people across miles, warning of trouble. We salute her leadership in commanding The Washington Informer, as the drumbeat sending vital information and warning the Washington community, and beyond, of critical issues impacting our lives.  

 

With both a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications and a Juris Doctorate from Howard University, she became the head of The Informer multi-media organization in 1994, after succeeding her father, the late Dr. Calvin W. Rolark, who founded the newspaper, in 1964. Her journalistic career began at an early age, writing for The Informer while attending middle school.  In 1980, she officially joined the staff, becoming the managing editor. Currently, Rolark Barnes also serves as the executive producer of The Washington Informer News, a bi-weekly television news program, hosts Let’s Talk, a public affairs program, and Reporter’s Roundtable. Rolark Barnes has appeared as a guest reporter on several local radio and television programs.


A servant-leader and native Washingtonian, Ms. Barnes is also president of The Washington Informer Charities, a non-profit organization that promotes 21st-century literacy and sponsors writing competitions, internships, scholarships, and other events promoting African American history, culture, and literature.  Through The Washington Informer Charities, Rolark Barns sponsors the annual Washington Informer City-Wide Spelling Bee as well as internships and writing competitions for high school and college students interested in pursuing careers in journalism.

She serves on the boards of several local non-profit, community and municipal organizations, including the Washington Convention and Sports Authority’s Events DC, the DC Martin Luther King Holiday Commission, National Newspaper Publishers Association Fund, the Maryland, Delaware, DC Press Association, and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, and the Pan African Collective. She is also a member of Leadership Greater Washington. 

 

Her commitment and dedication to the community is further demonstrated by her role as the president of the District of Columbia chapter of AARP and member of the Board of Directors of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the United Black Fund, Inc. She is also associated with the District of Columbia Black Public Relations Society Foundation, the Historical Society of Washington, DC, and several other community non-profit organizations.
 

An accomplished journalist, Rolark Barnes is the recipient of many outstanding awards and recognitions, including being honored by the National Newspaper Publishers Association in March of 2008, with the Chrysler Financial/National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation Entrepreneurial Award, which recognizes the nation’s black-owned newspapers for their entrepreneurial accomplishments and commitments to community service. She received the Jack and Lovell Olender Foundation Generous Heart Award in 2011, and the Summit Health Institute for Research and Education (SHIRE) Community Champion Award. Ms. Barnes is an inductee in the D.C. Hall of Fame.

At a time when newspapers are folding and experiencing tremendous losses and declining readership, The Informer has been undergoing a remarkable expansion. Readership for the DC-based weekly has nearly doubled to roughly 50,000, and grown in size, from an average 36 pages per issue to 56 pages. In a Bahama News article in 2021, Rolark Barnes explained the paper’s success by saying: People are finally waking up to the importance of local news. As a result, local newspapers like ours are becoming eligible for grants, partnerships and other philanthropic dollars that weren’t available before.

 

She is proud that her two sons are carrying on the legacy, with active roles in the business. Of her mission, Barnes was once quoted as having declared that: This is an institution that we have to nurture and take care of for the benefit of our entire community. Denise Rolark Barnes we salute you for over 50 years of dedicated service to the Washington, DC community, through The Washington Informer.

THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING:  
COURAGE UNDER FIRE AWARDS
 
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Charles M. Blow

BLACK BRILLIANCE IMPACT AWARD

 
 

Charles M. Blow is an Op-Ed columnist at The New York Times, where his column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. Blow’s columns tackle hot-button issues such as social justice, racial equality, presidential politics, police violence, gun control, and the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Blow is also a former CNN commentator and was a Presidential Visiting Professor at Yale, where he taught a seminar on media and politics.

Blow is the author of the critically acclaimed New York Times best-selling memoir, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.” The book won a Lambda Literary Award and the Sperber Prize and made multiple prominent lists of best books published in 2014. People Magazine called it “searing and unforgettable.” His second book, “The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto,” was named a "most anticipated book" by the San Francisco Chronicle, O, the Oprah Magazine, Time Out, Town and Country, and Lithub.

Blow joined The New York Times in 1994 as a graphics editor and quickly became the paper’s graphics director, a position he held for nine years. In that role, he led The Times to a best of show award from the Society for News Design for The Times’ information graphics coverage of 9/11, the first time the award had been given for graphics coverage.  He also led the paper to its first two best of show awards from the Malofiej Infographics World Summit for work that included coverage of the Iraq war.  He then went on to become the paper’s design director for news before leaving in 2006 to become the art director of National Geographic Magazine. Before coming to The Times, Blow had worked at The Detroit News.

He graduated magna cum laude from Grambling State University in Louisiana, where he received a B.A. in mass communications, and he holds an honorary doctorate from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston. He currently lives in Atlanta and has three children. 

THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING:  
COURAGE UNDER FIRE AWARDS
 
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Michelle D. Bernard

HOST

 
 

Michelle D. Bernard is a lawyer, political analyst, pundit and opinion maker, social critic, author, columnist, public speaker, and president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy

 

An attorney by training, Michelle D. Bernard is a political and social justice journalist, pundit and opinion maker, social critic, author, columnist, and public speaker. Ms. Bernard is fiercely independent in her political views and is particularly interested in how national and local politics, policy, and elections affect matters of racial, social, and gender justice, the economy, education reform and the digital divide, national security, terrorism and the military, and the advancement of democracy, economic liberty, and the human rights of women and ethnic and religious minorities globally.

 

As the president & CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy, she concentrates on domestic and foreign policy matters and provides commentary on topics as varied as presidential politics, the 2008, 20012, 2016, and 2020 presidential elections, various Congressional and gubernatorial campaigns and elections; the political participation and voting trends of African Americans, Latino’s, women and millennials, education reform and school choice, foreign policy and national security issues, and advancing democracy, economic liberty, and international human rights. An outspoken advocate of the human rights of people of color, women, and religious minorities globally, Ms. Bernard is, among other things, a passionate advocate of the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement and the #SayHerName campaign of the African American Policy Forum. An ardent advocate of women’s human rights, Ms. Bernard has assisted in the development and implementation of training programs built on the pillars of democracy, women’s rights and religious freedom, political activism in a democracy, issues of governance, free markets, and non-governmental organizations in Asia and the Middle East.

 

In March 2018, the National Congress of Black Women awarded Ms. Bernard the 11th Annual Shirley Chisholm Memorial Trailblazers Award. In March 2016, Mrs. Bernard was awarded a distinguished alumni achievement award from Howard University for outstanding post-graduate achievement in the fields of media, journalism and public policy. In 2015, she was awarded the Anvil of Freedom Award for journalism and democracy by the University of Denver’s Edward W. and Charlotte A. Estlow International Center for Journalism and New Media. Later that year, the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University announced that Ms. Bernard was being honored on the University’s Plaza of Heroines. Also, later that year, “Upscale” magazine named Ms. Bernard as one of “25 Power Players … who have defied traditions, the odds, and more to get where they are today – at the tops of their games.” Ms. Bernard was named in the November 2014 issue of “Essence” magazine as a “Rising Star” on its annual “Money & Power List.” Additionally, Ms. Bernard has been featured in several publications, including “Essence.com,” “Fast Company” magazine, “Jamaque” magazine, “The Legal Times,” “The Nation,” “The New York Daily News,” “The Washington Business Journal,” “The Washington City Paper,” “The Washington Lawyer,” “The Washington Post,” “The Washington Post Sunday Magazine,” and “The Washington Times.”

 

Ms. Bernard is the author of “Naming the Sin: Are Churches Helping to Stop Domestic Violence or Enabling It,” Sojourner’s (December 2013), “Moving America Toward Justice: The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, 1963-2013” (2013), “Women’s Progress: How Women Are Wealthier, Healthier and More Independent Than Ever Before,”(2007) and is a contributing author to the National Urban League’s “State of Black America 2009: Message to the President” (2009) and Lifetime Network’s “Secrets of Powerful Women: 25 Successful American Politicians Tell How They Got Where They Are – And What It’s Like” (2010). Additionally, Mrs. Bernard is the author of numerous opinion editorials and commentaries that have appeared in various publications, including, but not limited to, “Politico Magazine,” “Roll Call,” Sidewire,” “U.S. News and World Report,” “The 74,” The Hill,” “The Huffington Post,” and “The Root.” Additionally, Ms. Bernard wrote several opinion editorials for “The Washington Post’s She The People” from 2014 until that feature was discontinued.

 

Ms. Bernard has appeared regularly as a political analyst and media commentator on Al Jazeera’s “The Third Rail,” CNN’s “Smerconish,” HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” MSNBC’s Election 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020 programming, “All In with Chris Hayes,” “AM Joy,” “The Beat with Ari Melber,” “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams,” “MSNBC Live,” and “Weekends with Alex Witt.” She has appeared as a panelist on TV One’s “News One Now with Roland Martin” and frequently guest-hosted “Washington Watch with Roland Martin” until that program ended. In 2008, she joined “The McLaughlin Group” as a rotating panelist and appeared on that program until 2016 when the original program ended. In 2009, Ms. Bernard co-created and hosted MSNBC’s education reform television special, “About Our Children.”

 

Ms. Bernard is a member of the Board of Directors of the Calculus Roundtable and the McLean Project for the Arts. She is a member of the International Women’s Forum of Washington, D.C., and served as its Leadership Foundation Liaison from 2013 to 2015. She is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Adams National Bank, the Board of Directors of the Ellington Fund of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, the Board of Trustees of Hampton University, and the Board of Directors of the Coalition for Opportunity in Education. Prior to founding the Bernard Center, among other things, Ms. Bernard was once a partner at the District of Columbia’s law firm, Patton Boggs, LLP.

 

Ms. Bernard holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy and political science from Howard University and a Juris Doctor degree from The Georgetown University Law Center.

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