— Some advocates make history. Their leadership inspires countless lives and actions for generations.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was that kind of advocate.

Others are people who work quietly every day to make changes in the lives of those around them, said Jane McCauley of the YWCA of Rock County.

Sonja Robinson is that kind of advocate, McCauley said.

“Her colleagues in the Janesville School District say she is not afraid to have courageous conversations about race,” McCauley said. “Her actions are changing the cultural climate of Janesville schools.”

Robinson on Saturday was awarded the YWCA’s racial justice award at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration and community award ceremony at Blackhawk Technical College.

A crowd of several hundred enjoyed music performed by youth groups. The school’s commons was decorated with artwork and essays from students at Rock County schools.

The event is hosted by a number of local organizations, including the Diversity Action Team of Rock County, local Boys and Girls clubs, the United Auto Workers Local 95 and human relations clubs in Beloit and Janesville high schools.

This year’s theme was “Warrior for Peace.”

That’s a phrase that fits Robinson, she said in an interview with The Gazette before the award ceremony.

“It’s who I am,” Robinson said. “It’s the way I was raised. It was the norm for my family to help people. You see a need, you fill it.”

Other adult award winners included Jeanne Carfora of Janesville and Barbara Hickman of Beloit.

Carfora is a retired Janesville teacher and a member of a number of cultural advocacy organizations including the YWCA board of directors and the Diversity Action Team of Rock County.

Hickman retired in June after a 50-year career with the Beloit School District. When she retired, she was the administrator for equity in the district’s minority excellence office.

A number of students won awards for entries in an essay contest sponsored by Hedberg Public Library. Students were asked to explain what “Warrior for Peace” meant to them.

The library received 599 entries, which was enough to make diversity outreach coordinator Rene Bue cry—in a good way, she said.

One of the winners was Madison Elementary School fourth-grader Emily Cameron. After Emily read her essay, Bue repeated the last line of the piece.

The line was a great example of the spirit of King and part of the reason Emily’s essay was a winner, Bue said.

“You can be a warrior, too,” the essay states, “By helping somebody or changing something that isn’t fair by using words.”


What: The Diversity Action Team of Rock County is one of the groups that organized Saturday’s Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration event at Blackhawk Technical College. The team meets monthly to socialize and discuss issues about diversity and multiculturalism.

When: The group meets the first Thursday of each month at UW-Rock County. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. and includes a business meeting, a networking period and an educational program.

To learn more: Call Jeanne Carfora at 608-756-1815 or visit datrockco.org.

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