Honoring Syracuse's Leaders in
The ACTS 2017 Spring Banquet was a tremendous success, and raised close to $30,000 in pursuit of the mission to end structural racism and poverty in Syracuse.
More than 460 people attended the banquet, and many more contributed their time, energy, or money to realize Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community.” Always at the center of the annual banquet celebration is “social justice.” At the center of social justice, one always finds community leaders who fight for compassionate transformation.
Each year at the banquet, ACTS honors a handful of these resilient leaders and their struggles against the stubborn problems that face our community. Honorees of past banquets dedicated their lives to the uplifting of the poor, marginalized, and forgotten people of Central New York. This year was no different, with three awards presented to three outstanding local leaders. Rev. Jim Mathews from St. Lucy's and the Rev. Dr. Jim Wiggins were recognized. In addition, a new and "surprise" award for "Volunteer Leader of the Year" was introduced. The Awardee is an ACTS Task Force Co-Chair and mother of five.
Volunteer Leader of the Year
Aneesah Evans remembers when Syracuse was a more peaceful place, and worries about the effects of concentrated poverty and community violence on so many people.
“Syracuse used to be a lot safer when I was growing up,” she said in an interview with ACTS, “I want that again not only for my children, but for all of the children and adults in this city.”
Aneesah is a mother of five and a multi-faceted leader within the ACTS Community.
With her responsibilities stretched between the provision of her home and the transformation of the Syracuse community, some may wonder how she manages it all. Her reply would showcase her idea that everyone has a role to play in a better Syracuse, even if that role is simply having an open mind and heart. Aneesah is the Co-Chair of the Community Violence and Youth (CV&Y) Task Force and the Coordinator of the ACTS Youth Council. Despite her professional and family commitments, such as taxi-ing her children around Syracuse, she still allots time for social justice work.
“I ask the question: why not me, and why not you?” she explained, when asked if all people should contribute to social justice efforts. With her obvious zeal, it may surprise some to know that she was once hesitant to adopt the ACTS mission. Two years ago, she was finally recruited by her cousin and ACTS Office Manager “Liso” Smith.
“In the past, I used to tune out a lot of the problems in Syracuse, but ACTS shone a lot of light onto those issues for me,” she said, “it got me excited to help.”
She was soon offered a leadership position in the CV&Y Task force for their upcoming projects. Although cautious to accept, the more she pondered over her busy family life and new relationship with ACTS, the clearer her revelation became.
“The bigger picture is not just within my home, but within the entire city, the two affect each other,” she said.
As the chair of the CV&Y Task Force, Aneesah led its members through an initiative focused around the topic of “conflict transformation.” In other words, how could ACTS reduce the violence that strikes Syracuse’s poorest regions?
The topic culminated into this year’s goal of hosting “Alternatives to Violence Project” (AVP) workshops. AVP has reduced community violence in countless cities before, and Aneesah is confident it will deliver equivalent results for Syracuse. She further nurtured the AVP idea and was instrumental in the recruitment of Timothy Kirkland as the new CV&Y Task Force Co-Chair. Kirkland is a former inmate, an AVP advocate, and a leader of many projects throughout Syracuse.
Aneesah believes a true leader succeeds not through authority, but through offering a pillar of support. True leaders, in her mind, uncover the inner-strengths of others and compel their expression through every-day actions.
“In fact, ACTS is still helping me discover my strengths as well,” she remarked.
Aneesah is a woman of many roles. As the Coordinator for the ACTS Youth Council, she helped guide the youth in their most recent projects. Through her nuanced direction, the ACTS Youth Council heard three prominent concerns amongst their Syracuse peers: violence, food, and education.
To address the issue of “violence,” the ACTS Youth Council, under Aneesah’s direction, will assist in the introduction of AVP workshops. Additionally, they will undergo training themselves to better interact with the strife their neighborhoods face.
To address the issue of “food,” Aneesah acted as an advisor in their idea to improve the quality of nutrition at Syracuse schools. There is a wealth of culture and cuisine amongst Syracuse Families, and the ACTS Youth Council hopes to bring those visions of home to school cafeterias.
For the issue of “education,” Aneesah organized something truly extraordinary. On March 4th, 2017, she helped assemble people for the “Syracuse People’s March for Education Justice.” The march demanded fair and fully funded public schools and the protection of our children’s educational future.
In February, she had shouldered the task of pulling the march together and expediently networked with teachers, community members, and leaders from the “Alliance for Quality Education.” Only two weeks later, she faced the brutal March cold with a hundred other activists and the entire ACTS Youth Council.
“Every single child in the Syracuse City School District deserves an excellent education in a nurturing environment,” she said after the protest.
Aneesah Evans has amassed an impressive portfolio of social justice work and has asked for little in return. At the ACTS 2017 Spring Banquet, the entire ACTS community surprised her with the “Volunteer Leader of the Year Award” in front of a beaming crowd. To say she deserves such a designation would be an unjust understatement. ACTS is nothing without its volunteer leaders, and Aneesah models that spirit for us all.