Meet our 2015 Annual Dinner Awardees

Posted March 12th, 2015  |  News

MCHR’s Annual Dinner on Sunday March 22nd is coming up fast (you can still buy tickets online or by mail, click here for more info).

Here is some more info on our keynote speaker and our awardees:

Keynote Speaker, Linda Sarsour:

Linda Sarsour is the Executive Director for the Arab American Association of New York  and Senior Strategist for The Campaign to Take on Hate.

She is a proud New Yorker that lives in Brooklyn. Linda has received numerous awards and honors including “Champion of Change” by the White House, the New York City Council’s Shirley Chisholm Women of Distinction Award and received the inaugural American Muslim of the Year honor from the Council on Americans Islamic Relations. She has written for and has been featured in local, national, and international media discussing impact of domestic policies that target Arab and Muslim American communities, criminal justice issues and Middle East affairs.

Linda has been in the news a lot lately, speaking out against Islamophobia and violent crimes against Muslim and Arab populations. We look forward to hearing her speak at the Annual Dinner!

Lifetime Activist Award, Helen Weber and Frank O’Donnell

Helen Weber and Frank O’Donnell are longtime social justice activists that live in Ferndale. They are both involved in the struggle against homophobia and racism in their community.

Frank went to seminary for high school and college and during these years he learned about the evils of racial discrimination. Throughout school and after being ordained, he became involved in the fight to raise awareness of racial discrimination in Warren, where he was assigned to a parish. After racial violence against multiple black families in Warren, he helped organize a push back in the community.

In the mid 1970s Frank was elected to the Ferndale School Board, where the Justice Department had been fighting in court to desegregate the Ferndale Schools for many years. He helped with the fight to desegregate the school system but the district lost the case in Federal appeals court.

Frank was also active in the anti-war movement during the Viet Nam War era.

Frank has also worked at many nonprofit and community organizations including Focus:HOPE, Common Ground, Peace Action of Michigan, and Citizens For a Fair Ferndale- as well as Justice Marilyn Kelly’s campaigns.

Helen was born and raised in Detroit and was educated at Marygrove College, as part of the Immaculate Heart of Mary congregation. Following graduation, she taught at St. Anne School in Warren and explored ways of getting parents more involved in the education of their children.

Helen also worked at Harper Hospital and practiced law for over 20 years. She served on the Ferndale City Council for 10 years and is also involved in Peace Action of Michigan.

Helen and Frank were married in 1971 and find Metro Detroit to be a great area to connect with important causes and true activists. Besides local actions they also have been on fact-finding missions to Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Iraq.


Youth Activists- Dreamers: Adonis Flores and Josue Tellez

Adonis is a DREAMer, who was brought to the U.S as a child at the age of eight without documentation.  He is a student at Wayne State University and is involved in activism for the immigrant community and is very devoted to the immigrant cause of fixing our broken immigration system.

Adonis is the Immigrant Rights Organizer in Southeast Michigan for Michigan United and has been involved in campaigns for Tuition Equality that promote equal access to higher education through instate tuition policies for undocumented students in Michigan.  He has also been a leader in the national campaign for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and is now working to prepare the immigrant community in Southeast Michigan for the implementation of Administrative Relief.

Josue is a DREAMer, who immigrated to the US from Mexico as a child. Josue has worked on Comprehensive Immigration Reform with Michigan Immigrants Rights Coalition and Michigan United and directly lobbied congressional members in Michigan and Washington, DC. He worked on the first tuition equality policy in Michigan with the Michigan Coalition for Tuition Equality who won tuition equality in 2012, and Josue’s own school, Oakland Community College, raised tuition rates on non-citizens, Josue felt that he and the immigrant populations in Oakland were being set back and that when so many doors had opened, they were being shut again. Josue responded to this by forming the Michigan Dreamers for Tuition Equality and he organized a campaign to change the policy.

The campaign began in January and by May 20th, OCC had reversed its policy. Since then, MDTE and its coalition partners have worked with Henry Ford College, Macomb Community College, and Wayne County Community College have also modified policy to include undocumented and DACA students.

Josue is currently in the Pre-Law Program at Oakland Community College, interns with the Garcia Law Firm on immigration cases, was recently promoted to manager of a local restaurant, and continues to work on immigration reform issues such as tuition equality, access to education, notario fraud, and the implementation of administrative relief in SE Michigan.


Organizational Activist- The People’s Water Board

The People’s Water Board (PWB) is a Detroit-based coalition of over 20 local, statewide and national grassroots groups, social justice and food justice advocates, non-profit environmental organizations, faith-based affiliates and labor unions committed to protecting Southeast Michigan’s fresh water and water-sewerage system from pollution, high rates and privatization.

PWB members meet bi-weekly to report, strategize and carry-out community actions and programs that promote their collective mission:

Water is life. The People’s Water Board advocates for access, protection, and conservation of water. We believe water is a human right and all people should have access to clean and affordable water. Water is a commons that should be held in the public trust free of privatization. The People’s Water Board promotes awareness of the interconnectedness of all people and resources.

The coalition was founded in April 2009 by several organizations committed to modeling democratic, community-based solutions for water access, affordability, quality and as a pubic trust – in contrast to draconian policies and practices of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). In its six years, the PWB has developed a wide base of organizers and advocates across the Great Lakes, and has expanded international alliances with human rights groups.

In 2014, the People’s Water Board was a co-plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the City of Detroit, DWSD and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to stop water shutoffs, restore water service to low income customers and to implement the 2005 Water Affordability Plan. The People’s Water Board Coalition, with support of Maude Barlow, Blue Planet Project, Council of Canadians, and Food & Water Watch, filed a U.S. violation of human rights complaint to the United Nations. Along with international media and petition campaigns, this drew the attention and visit to Detroit of the United Nations’ Special Rapporteurs on water, sanitation and housing.

Current People’s Water Board organizational members include:
AFSCME Local 207*
Baxter’s Beat Back the Bullies Brigade
Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN)*
Detroit Eviction Defense
Detroit Greens*
Detroit People’s Platform
Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management (D-REM)
East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC)*
For the Love of Water (FLOW)
Food & Water Watch
Great Lakes Bioneers – Detroit
Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice (MECAWI)*
Matrix Theater Company
Michigan Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR)
Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO)*
Moratorium NOW*
Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute*
Sierra Club*
Sisters of Mercy
Small Ville Learning Farms
Voices for Earth Justice
We the People of Detroit

Non-affiliated, individual members actively participate in general meetings and vote through their participation on PWB committees. The People’s Water Board is open to groups and persons who choose to work actively in support of the PWB mission and participate in its meetings and activities.

*indicates founding member organizations of the PWB


We are pleased to present the 2015 Annual Dinner awardees and look forward to hearing more from them on Sunday March 22nd at Marygrove College! MCHR would like to thank our 2015 awardees for the important and inspiring work they do.