The University of Utah College of Social Work recognized four individuals and three organizations for helping the state's underserved populations during the 7th Annual Pete Suazo Social Justice Awards on campus Friday.
Former state Sen. Pete Suazo was well-known for advocating on behalf of minorities before his tragic death in 2001. The college recognizes his legacy by honoring community members who "dedicate themselves to the goal of social and economic justice."
Attorney Mary Jane Ciccarello was recognized for her work in giving legal aid to Utah's seniors, a demographic frequently targeted by criminals but whose legal needs are often neglected.
"I always try to use the law as a tool to achieve justice," she said. "But I learn from the elderly. I try to help that the legal route isn't the only one to justice. Many times people feel they have achieved justice once they feel they've been heard and have a voice in the process."
KUED Ch. 7 was recognized for its programs on Utah's minorities and for its outreach programs to underserved populations. General manager Larry Smith accepted the award and plugged the new Vme digital channel in Spanish and a new program being produced about Utah's five Native American tribes called "We Shall Remain."
"Inclusion has always been important to us and we know that serving the needs of different audiences is crucial," he said.
The Utah Pride Center was given the award for program development and organizational advocacy for their work in serving the state's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Pete Suazo's legacy has made their difficult work easier, said executive director Valerie Larabee. The Inclusion Center for Community and Justice received the award for training, outreach and awareness building.
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon was honored for establishing the first Mayor's Office of Diversity Affairs. Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, was honored for continuing the efforts of Sen. Suazo to pass hate crime legislation.
Lynn Lee was given the award for Lifetime Community Service for establishing a College of Eastern Utah campus in Blanding to serve San Juan County's Native Americans and others. Before the 1970s, students in the area had to move away from home to pursue higher education. Lee said he had to fight prejudice and ignorance to bring a branch of College of Eastern Utah to the community in 1977. Most Salt Lake City politicians didn't know where the county was or didn't know its population was half Native American, he said."I can't imagine the challenges Sen. Suazo faced in a political system that seems to care so little for the needs of the underserved," he said. "I feel a little embarrassed for accepting this award because I got paid for dreaming. Other people did the work."