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ASU gala honors unsung changemakers

group of people pose with Sparky the Sun Devil at a gala event
December 17, 2014

More than 400 community members joined Arizona State University’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Talking Stick Resort on Dec. 6 to celebrate the service and accomplishments of eight unsung heroes working for positive social change.

The inaugural Architects of Change Gold and Silver Gala also raised funds to support the work of the center, which promotes unity across cultural and racial boundaries, and more citizen involvement in participatory democracy.

Frederick Douglass was there. So were Sojourner Truth, Marian Anderson, Wilma Rudolph and other historical change agents and social pioneers – played by cast members of “Black Women Walking” and “Black Men Talking,” a one-act play and theater piece playing in the Valley next month. The actors visited with guests in-character during the pre-dinner reception and performed scenes featuring Harriet Tubman and Willie May Ford Smith during the recognition portion of the evening.

Honored as the 2014 Architect of the Year was ASU alumnus and Phoenix resident Vada O. Manager. The former Nike executive, who is now president and CEO of Manager Global Consulting Group, was joined at the celebration by family and friends from across the country.

Deflecting attention from his own work, Manager spoke about the need for educational equity for all. He spoke with gratitude about the mentors and support he found at ASU, including a pivotal conversation in the financial aid office when his ability to remain at the university was in jeopardy. Manager also gave special acknowledgement to his longtime mentor and friend, former Gov. Rose Mofford, “who had the courage to hire someone who looked like me to be a spokesperson for her administration” in the 1980s.

Other servant-leaders recognized at the event with Architects of Change awards were Amanda Blackhorse, Karen Callahan, Roshawndra Carnes, Brittney Griner, Oskar Knoblauch, Adolfo Maldonado and RJ Shannon.

“Whether they advocate for equity and inclusion, leverage financial success to aid the less fortunate, educate young people others have left behind, teach people how to empower their neighbors, or fight bigotry and bullying, our 2014 honorees have worked successfully on behalf of progress and transformational change – in our community and beyond,” says Matthew C. Whitaker, ASU Foundation Professor of History in the College of Letters and Sciences and founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy.

Too often individuals who are true architects of change are hidden in plain sight, he notes.

“Bringing their accomplishments to light helps all of us, especially young people, understand the wonderful things that relatively unknown people can do to make our neighborhoods, cities, states, country and world a better place,” Whitaker emphasizes.

ASU alumna Gayle Bass, longtime radio and television journalist in the Valley and now host of “RightThisMinute,” emceed the spirited event. Spoken-word artist Tomas Stanton, co-founder of Phonetic Spit, opened and closed the formal portion of the program.

“Tomas’s poetry resonated deeply with our audience members,” Whitaker says. “And guests appreciated Gayle’s comedic touch and willingness to share relevant personal stories about her life, including some key ways multicultural unity has enriched it,” he continues. “They each contributed an additional layer of energy and cohesion to this evening.”

Putting on an event of this magnitude was a lesson in community-building in and of itself.

The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy’s small staff was joined by more than 40 volunteers, many of them ASU students and staff, who worked behind the scenes for months to coordinate the details – contributing and, in some cases, learning along the way some skills applicable to event management, fundraising and community organizing.

The mayors of the cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale, Greg Stanton and W. J. “Jim” Lane, shared written statements of welcome and support, as did Diane Enos, president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, who noted that the community was proud to partner in honoring those who “are among the best and brightest of opportunity creators and unity builders.”

Premier sponsors were Ashland Inc. and the Helios Education Foundation. Platinum sponsors included APS, Maricopa Community Colleges, the Safeway Foundation and ASU Educational Outreach and Student Services.

Macy’s generously outfitted many of the student volunteers with appropriate attire for the black-tie event.

“The wonderful turnout for this recognition event was in keeping with the enthusiastic response for each of the center’s recent lectures and Healing Racism dialogues,” observes Duane Roen, College of Letters and Sciences interim dean. “There is a hunger and appreciation for all that the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy is doing to bridge differences and celebrate our humanity.”

In November, the center was presented with the Inclusive Workplace Leader award, sponsored by Arizona’s Diversity Leadership Alliance and the Arizona Society for Human Resource Management, at a conference luncheon of more than 1,000 participants.

“The incredible support we’ve received from the community for the work to which we’ve placed our hands has been humbling and affirming,” says Whitaker.

View informative, inspirational vignettes about each of the honorees:

Vada O. Manager 
Amanda Blackhorse
Karen Callahan 
Roshawndra Carnes
Brittney Griner 
Oskar Knoblauch
Adolfo Maldonado 
RJ Shannon