MLK Unsung Hero Awards
The MLK Unsung Hero Awards are annually awarded to two UNC staff/faculty, department or community/corporate entity who have exemplified a steadfast commitment to inclusion. Through their everyday work and advocacy, these awardees have made significant contributions to social justice, equity, and diversity, and have made a positive difference in the lives of others at Carolina.
Jan Johnson Yopp is a professor in the School of Media and Journalism and dean of Summer School for Academic Affairs. Throughout her years at UNC-Chapel Hill, she has shown her passion for student success and, as a result, for initiatives that ensure accessibility and affordability for all students as well as recruitment and retention.
As a professor in the MJ School, she has been a co-adviser to the student organization, the Carolina Association of Black Journalists, since its inception 26 years ago. She was instrumental in creating the Chuck Stone Program for Diversity in Media and Education, an intensive summer workshop for high school students to introduce –and recruit—them to journalism and to Carolina. Twenty-one Chuck Stone scholars are current students here. Dean Yopp teaches in the four-day workshop that is modeled on the multicultural Rainbow Institute that she and the late Professor Chuck Stone co-directed in the early 1990s.
Under her leadership as dean, Summer School has supported the development of courses to help students thrive at Carolina and has increased its contribution to programs such as Summer Bridge and Chancellors Science Scholars. She has built successful partnerships to launch new summer transition programs for incoming first-year and transfer students. These programs especially benefit nontraditional, underrepresented, veteran and first-generation students as they begin their academic careers at Carolina. One partnership program, housed in Diversity and Inclusion, for example, recruits rising high school seniors to campus to take a summer course and live on campus. Today 26 Uplift Plus students from the program’s first four years are UNC-Chapel Hill students.
Since 2015, Erica Wallace has served as the Coordinator for Peer Mentoring and Engagement in the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling here at UNC. She is a native of Charlotte, North Carolina and has earned degrees from Davidson College and Clemson University and is current working on her doctorate at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In her role here at Carolina, she actively engages with students involved in the Minority Advisory Program, Carolina Covenant Peer Mentoring Program, and Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program (C-STEP). The goal of these programs is to assist first-year and transfer students’ transition into the Carolina community through the support of peer mentors. Because she believes in the power of positive peer influence and cultivating a legacy of excellence, Erica works in collaboration with a dynamic graduate and undergraduate student staff to create an environment where students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and transfer students feel supported and valued. She endeavors to be an educator who recognizes and cultivates students’ potential, a mentor who is supportive and trustworthy, and an advocate who encourages and implements change while never accepting the status quo.
Erica likes to joke that there is the job she is paid to do and the job she actually does. In addition to managing the three peer mentoring programs and interacting with their participants, Erica is the current chair of the Womxn of Worth Advisory Board. The mission of the Womxn of Worth Initiative is to create and sustain a community for womxn of color and womxn for identify as members of underrepresented racial and ethnic populations that will promote academic excellence, holistic student success and wellness, identity development, and sisterhood. This is a collaborative campus effort involving undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty and staff from various departments that Erica started with 2 former colleagues in Carolina Housing in 2016. Living with the multiple marginality of being a woman of color can feel like being an outsider-within, both invisible and hypervisible. Erica recognizes that in order for a campus, a community, and a society to truly be inclusive, you have to make space for those located in the margin and to create spaces of, to borrow a phrase from bell hooks, “radical openness and possibility.” This is what she works toward, collectively through the programs and individually with the students entrusted in her care. Making space for each student she encounters to be seen as a priority, to be heard loud and clear, and to just be their authentic selves. Erica is proud to be a part of the Carolina community to assist students in their development as scholars and human beings and to continuously work toward an inclusive and enlightened Carolina.
In his “America’s Threatened Languages” course, American Studies Professor Benjamin Frey encourages students to apply real world social situations to better understand community development. Dr. Frey also applies his mastery of linguistics in the campus-wide “Cherokee Coffee Hour,” which he initiated in 2013 to help revitalize interest in Cherokee language.
For his work, Dr. Frey has been the recipient of the Carolina Postdoctoral Fellowship for Faculty Diversity and been recognized for his commitment to service from the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.
A Zone Manager and valued member of the UNC Housekeeping team, Mr. Seymore has worked diligently with staff to appreciate diversity, build trust and an understanding of workplace expectations. A positive influence and calming force, he has been a bridge builder who encourages connections, promotion of understanding of others, and recognition of commonalities amongst his co-workers while reminding them to consider other points of view.
Mr. Seymore is a veteran that served in the United States Air Force as a Security Police officer. He enjoys volunteer work at local rest homes, assisting senior citizens.
Namee Barakat and Mohammad Abu-Salha
Namee Barakat, father of Deah Bakarat, and Mohammad Abu-Salha, father of Yusor Mohammad, accepted the Unsung Hero Award on behalf of their slain children, Deah Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha. A Memorial Award was established by UNC Chapel Hill and the Dental Foundation of North Carolina (DFNC) in their memory. The award goes towards supporting a student or group of students at the UNC School of Dentistry who plan a service project locally, nationally or internationally – an endeavor that Barakat and Abu-Salha devoted themselves to regularly with their humanitarian work.
Larry Hicks and Tiane Mitchell Gordon
Tiane Mitchell Gordon is Founder and Principal of Square One, a consulting practice with subject matter expertise in diversity and inclusion from a theoretical and operational perspective. She has worked with D&I as the Diversity Expert-in-Residence—consulting with staff and students enrolled in the Cultural Competence Leadership Institute. She has had a career-long history of developing effective partnerships and strategic alliances in for profit and not-for-profit organizations. Ms. Mitchell Gordon’s last corporate position was as Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for AOL, LLC.
Larry Hicks is a recent retiree after serving nearly 30 years at Carolina. In his final role as Director of Housing and Residential Education, Larry championed issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion within his department and across the University. He and the housing staff established diversity, equity, and inclusion as core values for the department, encouraging staff and students to actively engage and challenge one another in exploring issues and initiatives. These accomplishments include a Multicultural Competence Committee, an Equity and Inclusion Professional Development plan for all staff, a Multicultural Advisor program for student staff and diversity advocates, frequent programs and presentations on issues of inclusion, modification of hiring practices to ensure more diverse applicant pools, the push to provide gender non-specific housing in the residence halls to assist LGBTQ students in acclimating to the campus environment, working with campus colleagues on international student engagement issues, and supporting the highly successful Tunnel of Oppression program hosted by students and assisted by staff and campus partners.