Why The Common Folk Awards?

In today’s world negativity dominates traditional media channels. Most outlets focus on the most recent terrorist attack or the child that was kidnapped. One Common Unity believes it is equally important to tell the stories of our heroes. The ones doing little things in great ways, everyday, to make the world a better place. The stories of some of those inspiring people are found within these pages. Through the Common Folk Awards, we wish to connect you with their stories, their work, their vision, their hopes and dreams.


Brother Baye (Washington D.C.)


Brother Baye

Climbing Poetree (Alixa and Naima) (Brooklyn, New York)


Alixa and Naima
“ART is our WEAPON, our MEDICINE, our VOICE, our VISION”

Climbing PoeTree is the expression of a growing movement for positive social change. Poets, performers, print-makers, dancers, muralists, and designers, Alixa and Naima have sharpened their art as a tool for popular education, community organizing, and personal transformation. With roots in Haiti and Colombia, Alixa and Naima reside in Brooklyn and track footprints across the country and globe on a mission to overcome destruction with creativity.

In five self-organized independent tours, Climbing PoeTree has catalyzed over 500 crowds in more than 70 cities from Oakland to Atlanta, Johannesburg to Havana with artists such as Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Danny Glover, The Last Poets, and Dead Prez. Alixa and Naima have led more than 100 arts-based peace education, anti-racism, and entrepreneurial workshops in institutions from Cornell University to Rikers Island. And they have painted murals on walls from the Bronx to Santiago, Toronto to Jamaica. Through compelling artistry, these multitalented, tireless, and driven young women expose injustice, help us heal from violence, and make a better future visible, immediate, and irresistible.

Anderson SA (Washington D.C.)


Anderson SA

Like many before him, Anderson Sa hoped to join the army and at age 13 his indoctrination had begun. Soon he found himself rolling marijuana cigarettes, embedding weapons and drugs, collecting money and attacking slums and rival dealers. He also found his circle of friends quickly disappearing with 6 murdered and 7 arrested. The uncertainty of a drug dealer’s life and the struggle to survive was becoming too much for him.
“In August of 1993, after four members of the military police were murdered the police retaliated by targeting and massacring 21 individuals, not members of the Red Command’s cartel but innocent residents of the favela. All of Rio, Brazil and the entire world were shocked by this blatant act of brutality by the military police’s “death squad.” Anderson was affected deeply and instead of joining the drug army’s retaliation against the police, he quit and vowed to change things, somehow. But how?

“Anderson was initially drawn to the Afro Reggae Cultural Group and its capoeira workshop (capoeira is a form of martial arts). He was also drawn to reggae music and soon was asked to join the Afro Reggae band (Banda) as a founding member. Anderson chose to learn the basic instruments of the Jamaican rhythm, the bass guitar and drums. He also found himself writing songs and singing. Anderson continued writing songs and taught kids in the favela how to play instruments. His songs and music urged all favela youth to shun the path of violence by offering them cultural alternatives. “In 2006, Afro Reggae offered training and workshops to 2,000 youth in over 60 programs and began touring internationally. Afro-Reggae has grown into a successful example of a community-based organization dedicated to promoting Afro-Brazilian cultural traditions while working to develop the self-esteem, alternative life projects and sense of citizenship among youth.”

(From SourceWatch)

Buy Favela Rising on Amazon

Marian Wright Edelman (Washington D.C.)


Marian Wright Edelman
Mrs. Edelman, a graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School, began her career in the mid-60s when, as the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, she directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson, Mississippi. In l968, she moved to Washington, D.C., as counsel for the Poor People’s Campaign that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began organizing before his death. She founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm and the parent body of the Children’s Defense Fund. For two years she served as the Director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University and in 1973 began CDF.

Mrs. Edelman served on the Board of Trustees of Spelman College which she chaired from 1976 to 1987 and was the first woman elected by alumni as a member of the Yale University Corporation on which she served from 1971 to 1977. She has received many honorary degrees and awards including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the Heinz Award, and a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship. In 2000, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings which include: Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change; The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours; Guide My Feet: Meditations and Prayers on Loving and Working for Children; Stand for Children; Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors; Hold My Hand: Prayers for Building a Movement to Leave No Child Behind; I’m Your Child, God: Prayers for Our Children; and I Can Make a Difference: A Treasury to Inspire Our Children. Her latest book, The Sea is So Wide and My Boat is So Small: Charting a Course for the Next Generation is in bookstores and available for purchase in our webstore.


Audri Scott Williams (Washington D.C.)


Audri Scott Williams
Audri Scott Williams, is the first African American woman to lead a team of peace walkers around the world (6 continents). She is the VisionKeeper for the Trail of Dreams World Peace Walk (2005-2009), a demonstration of ordinary people showing up to engage in a journey of the human spirit that took them around the world in a three and a half year walk for world peace. She is the author of the Diary of NOWTIME Prophecies and PEACE Walking as Ritual. and the host of the Peace Talks on Life Conversations. She is a dynamic and inspiring public speaker who draws from her many experiences as a mother, grandmother, educator, administrator, peacemaker and global peace walker.

Audri is dedicated to upholding the ancient wisdom teachings of love, wisdom, compassion and forgiveness. She holds a Masters in Liberal Arts from Naropa University in Indigenous Science, a BA in Criminology with post graduate studies at Harvard University, University of Maryland and American University. She has traveled as a representative of the WorldWide Indigenous Science Network, a participant in Prometra International (an organization with a mission to preserve and promote traditional healing and medicine) programs in Benin, Togo and Kenya.

Kristen Arant (Washington, D.C.)


Kristen Arant
Kristen is a drummer, musician, teacher, and organizer living and working in Washington, DC. She received a hand drum as a graduation gift after obtaining a degree in oboe performance from the University of Missouri in 1999. Already a social activist, Kristen discovered the drum had unique powers to unite and transform. She began her drumming career upon moving to Washington, DC in 2000, when she helped initiate the activist rhythm ensemble The Rhythm Workers Union.

Kristen began to take lessons and classes in Mandingue drumming (which dates back to the Mali Empire, whose origins are in Western Africa). She spent time studying with masters such as Baile McKnight, Mamady Keita, and Tammi Hessen. In 2005 she founded the Young Women’s Drumming Empowerment Project (YWDEP) – a DC-based non-profit that gives rise to young women’s self esteem, creative self-expression and positive development through drumming, poetry, movement, song and performance. YWDEP runs an enrichment program every summer and performs as an all-female drum troupe throughout the year.

Ayize Sabater (of M.O.M.I.E’S TLC)


Ayize Sabater
Mr. Sabater is a dynamic entrepreneur, community organizer, and teacher with over fifteen years of community building service. He is currently the CEO and co-founder of M.O.M.I.E’s TLC. Mr. Sabater grew up in a single parent, inner-city, low-income household in New York City and was the first in his family to attend college. He graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Morehouse College, and later completed graduate school studies at Wesley Theological Seminary. He holds a Masters degree in Divinity and has serves as a minister for 10 years at Promised Land Baptist church, his home church in Washington, DC. Mr. Sabater co-founded Delights of the Garden, one of the nation’s first chain of vegetarian restaurants. He has also been at the forefront of community activism in Washington, DC and has co-founded several community development organizations, including: Shining Stars Montessori Academy Public Charter school; Community Harvest; the CEED Youth Leadership Organization; and, Mentors of Minorities in Education. He worked for several years as a Senior Community Organizer with Community IMPACT!, a multi-million dollar, non-profit youth and community building organization. He has lectured widely on community development, education and other topics. Along with his amazing wife Rhonda, he is the proud father of four young Black boys and one girl. Mr. Sabater is recognized in the community as being a passionate advocate for education reform, action-oriented, and a powerful communicator for social justice.

Juan Pacheco (of Barrios Unidos)


Juan Pacheco
Mr. Pacheco’s motivation comes from his own life experience. As a youth he was involved in a gang which took many things away from him. His best friend’s life was taken away by gang violence. He had a full time scholarship from the Early Identification Program at George Mason University that was also taken away. He spent some time in jail in which his human right of freedom was stripped away due to his actions. But this is where his motivation comes from! Mr. Pacheco changed his life around. Now he is at George Mason University attaining his Pre-Med degree. He wants to become a pediatrician in the future. All of his education has been paid with hopes and hard work and through scholarships, since his parents have not been able to help out financially due to the economic strain that many immigrants go through in the Northern Virginia area. Mr. Pacheco believes that dreams are worth fighting for and he has. Knowing that he had no one there to help him through these ordeals has given him strength to fight for our youth. His strategies for successful community and youth work come out of his own experiences as a gang member, and now as someone who is working to help other young people turn their lives around. He was a gang member in the past that will become a great physician. Others can do the same if given a chance. Mr. Pacheco currently volunteers as the East Coast Representative for Barrios Unidos, a youth violence prevention/intervention and community awareness organization.

Alli Chagi-Starr (of Green For All)


Alli Chagi-Starr
Alli Chagi-Starr is Green For All’s Senior Community Engagement Strategist. She served as the Event Chair for the organization’s launch conference, The Dream Reborn, and was the publicity lead for the bestseller, The Green Collar Economy. She worked previously at Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, where she helped implement the Solutions Salon series and other large convenings, including the Social Equity track at the United Nations World Environment Day. Alli is the co-founder of the ten-year old Art in Action Youth Leadership Program and the new Green Youth Arts & Media Center in Oakland, CA. She was a the co-founder of Art and Revolution, a national network of artists activists that created nonviolent, creative actions across the nation to support social justice and environmental movements. Her essays about innovative activism appear in Democratizing the Global Economy, Global Uprising, Voices from the WTO, The Political Edge and How to Stop the Next War Now. She facilitates workshops on cultural organizing for green jobs, developing creative tools for social transformation and movement building.

Harley Eagle (of Mennonite Central Committee)


Harley Eagle
Harley Eagle is of the Dakota/Salteaux First Nations, enrolled in the Wapaha Ska Dakota First Nations Reserve, in Saskatchewan, Canada. He resides in Winnipeg, Manitoba with his partner Sue, who is of Russian Mennonite descent, and their two wonderful daughters, Danielle and Emma. They share a position as co-coordinators of Mennonite Central Committee Canada’s work with Indigenous people. In addition, he is also a Circle facilitator and Dismantling Racism trainer. Harley’s work involves designing processes for People of Color to address internalized racist oppression, organizing for change on the issue of systemic racism, and healing from the historical and current trauma of the Indigenous Peoples of this land.

Harley is a member of Indigenous Issues Forums (IIF), a team of folks who dedicate themselves to creating safe and respectful family centered environments to talk through tough issues and deal with conflict. Harley’s work at IFF is to design and facilitate creative restorative justice workshops that go beyond a mechanical nuts-and-bolts understanding of restorative practices. Harley has also co-facilitated workshops about dismantling racism for the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking in Minnesota. As well, Harley has worked at developing anti-oppression curriculum from his Indigenous perspective in Canada and the United States.

Sulu DC


Sulu DC
Named after Sulu of Star Trek (the first Asian American character in space) and a remote island in the Philippines, Sulu DC is an underground, grassroots network and home for AAPI artists. On the third Saturday of every month, Sulu DC hosts a performance showcase of emerging and established AAPI artists in poetry/spoken word, music, theater, and multidisciplinary performances. Inspired by the former Sulu Series in New York City, Sulu DC emerged from a need for visibility and a supportive community for AAPI artists in the greater Washington, D.C. area. Sulu DC fosters relationships with local and national activist organizations, nurtures the artistic development of emerging AAPI artists and builds inter-generational alliances with cities across North America in preparation for the biennial APIA Spoken Word & Poetry Summit.
Started in November 2009, Sulu DC was borne of a merging of the fabulous fivesome, Regie Cabico (co-founder of the Sulu Series in New York, Artistic Director of Sol y Soul and spoken word pioneer), Simone Jacobson (poet, dancer and independent curator), Jenny C. Lares (spoken word poet), Brian Wang (co-chair of DC’s Young and Powerful) and Alex Cena (hip hop/spoken word artist and youth organizer with AALEAD).

Dolores Huerta

2011 Lifetime Achievement Award

Dolores Huerta

Dolores Clara Fernandez Huerta is a labor leader and civil rights activist who, along with César Chávez, co-founded the National Farmworkers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW). Huerta has received numerous awards for her community service and advocacy for workers’, immigrants’, and womens’ rights, including the Eugene V. Debs Foundation Outstanding American Award, the United States Presidential Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rightsand the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As a role model to many in the Latin community, Huerta is the subject of many corridos (ballads) and murals.

Elisabeth Hoffman

2011 Peace Builder of the Year

Elisabeth Hoffman

Libby Hoffman is the founder and President of Catalyst for Peace, a Portland, Maine-based private foundation that mobilizes locally-owned and led peacebuilding and reconciliation in conflict and post-conflict settings, and pioneers in storytelling to share the lessons of this work with the world. She co-founded Fambul Tok (Family Talk), which brings victims and perpetrators from the civil war in Sierra Leone together for the first time in village-level, tradition-based ceremonies of truth-telling and forgiveness, reknitting the torn fabric of the community in the process. She produced the award-winning documentary film about this work, Fambul Tok, and is the lead author of the book of the same name, published by Umbrage Editions – both released in 2011.


Maimouna Youssef

2011 Artist of the Year

Maimouna Youssef

A fresh blend between Nina Simone and Lauryn Hill, Maimouna “Mumu Fresh” Youssef is a seasoned Grammy nominated singer, songwriter, producer, and emcee whose lush spirit filled vocals could bring you to tears while still being able to spit raps with the top emcees in the game..  This young starlet has swapped musical licks with the likes of Angelique Kidjo, Femi Kuti, Nas, Dead Prez, Will Downing, Cody ChesnuTT, Martin Luther, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli. In addition, she has traveled world wide as a supporting vocalist for legends such as Lalah Hathaway, Zap Mama, The Roots and Common.  Maimouna has rocked the stages of many renowned venues such as Denver Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheater, New York City’s Legendary Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, The Kennedy Center, Carter Barron Amphitheater as well as international festivals and venues such as Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival, South Africa’s Cape Town Jazz Festival and the legendary  New Africa Shrine in Lagos, Nigeria.

Sonya Renee

2011 Spoken Word Piece of the Year

Sonya Renee

Sonya Renee is an Internationally Acclaimed Performance Poet, Actress, Educator and Activist. She has been seen on HBO, CNN, BET,MTV, Oxygen Network; performing on stages from New Zealand to Scotland to New York. Sonya Renee is heralded as a “force of nature on stage” and “humanity in action”. Her work is published in numerous anthologies and has been translated into multiple languages. Her work is transformative, raw, honest and powerful. Be apart of the movement that is, SONYA RENEE!


Critical Exposure

2011 Most Creative Way to Use Art for Social Change

Critical Exposure

Critical Exposure serves youth through partnerships with D.C. high schools and through afterschool programs. Students gain skills in documentary photography, leadership and advocacy. They learn to think critically about their schools and communities and document issues that affect their lives. They then use these images to launch a campaign to address one of those issues collectively. Photos are shared with the public through traveling exhibits in galleries, libraries and other public spaces, and shown directly to public officials and decision-makers.

The Interrupters

2011 Film of the Year

The Interrupters

The Interrupters tells the moving and surprising stories of three Violence Interrupters who try to protect their Chicago communities from the violence they once employed. From acclaimed director Steve James and bestselling author Alex Kotlowitz, this film is an unusually intimate journey into the stubborn persistence of violence in our cities. Shot over the course of a year out of Kartemquin Films, The Interrupters captures a period in Chicago when it became a national symbol for the violence in our cities. During that period, the city was besieged by high-profile incidents, most notably the brutal beating of Derrion Albert, a Chicago High School student, whose death was caught on videotape.

Readnex Poetry Squad for “Be Dif’rent”

2011 Song of the Year

In the midst of social disparity and issues that continue to permeate the culture, the ReadNex Poetry Squad have issued open invitations to all to step outside the prescribed lifestyle matrix and embark on a journey toward progress and greater consciousness with a focus on youth.

This unwavering desire to facilitate social change has culminated in their metamorphic rebirth embodied in their new album, “ Day Before Sound,” released in early 2010.

Embracing the eternal tradition of conveying knowledge orally, audiences nationally and around the globe have been captivated and moved by the anti–apathetic stance of the group comprised of four spoken word poets/emcees and one D.J. Through the art of writing and the power of music, esteemed lyrical scholars Decora, FreeFlowin, Jarabe Del Sol, Latin Translator and DJ H20 continue to uplift urban communities with their universal message and sound influenced by Hip-Hop, Soul, Latin and Caribbean music.

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