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Bergen YWCA Honors Community Leaders At Racial Justice Awards In Ridgewood

Reba Wilson wiped away tears as she remembered her son, Michael Feeney, who died in January Photo Credit: Anthony Locicero
Barbara Giarmo (center) is a member of Bergen County's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Observance Committee Photo Credit: Anthony Locicero
The Pascack Valley Human Rights League started the hashtag #PeaceInPV after allegations of racial and ethnic bias at the school surfaced Photo Credit: Anthony Locicero
While working at Verizon, Barbara Giamo led a team that introduced the first bi-lingual telephone book Photo Credit: Anthony Locicero
Sonya Collins said that Michael Feeney was a "rising star" in journalism Photo Credit: Anthony Locicero

RIDGEWOOD, N.J.– YWCA Bergen County presented its third annual Racial Justice Awards at the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood Friday morning.

Recognized were Pascack Valley High School's Human Rights League, Barbara Giarmo and Michael Feeney (1983-2016), "each of whom have made and continue to make a lasting impact in the fight for racial equality," said YWCA Chief Executive Officer Helen Archontou.

The students in the school's Human Rights League, under the guidance of advisor Diana McKenna, plan activities and events designed to educate others, as well as raise funds for causes and organizations.

They wrote an open letter to the community through the school paper The Smoke Signal, and started the hashtag #PeaceInPV after allegations of racial and ethnic bias at school surfaced last spring.

Currently, the Human Rights League is trying to bring awareness and education to the school's Indian mascot.

"We continue to think locally and act globally," said Zoe Ziegler.

Giarmo, a former Verizon employee, is a member of the MLK Birthday Committee and the MLK Monument Committee, the Jazz Concert for Justice, and the Juneteenth Committee. Through her fundraising efforts, Hackensack's MLK Monument was built and dedicated in 2014. Giarmo also works with Bergen County high schools to select students for awards and college scholarships.

"As you make a difference in the lives of others, you also make a difference in your own life," said Giarmo.

Feeney of Teaneck died in January from a kidney staph infection. A former reporter for The Record and New York Daily News, Feeney earned the Emerging Journalist of the Year award from the New York Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.

"Michael was not only a dynamic journalist," said YWCA Board of Trustees President Sonya Collins. "He was a wise, dedicated mentor to young journalists."

"I felt I could make a difference and make changes in the communities I covered," Feeney said in a video produced by his alma mater, Delaware State University.

His mother, Reba Willis, tearfully accepted the award on his behalf.

The Racial Justice Award was created in observance of April's National YWCA Stand Against Racism. It recognizes individuals, businesses or organizations who live the YWCA's mission and have demonstrated leadership by working to eliminate racism and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people.

Freeholder David Ganz presented certificates of achievement.

A pre-ceremony breakfast was prepared by Tour Catering's Executive Chef Kennith Collins.

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