Alumna, staff member recognized for their efforts to foster, promote diversity

“Selfless” and “tireless” were the key words used to describe the winners of the 2010 University of Chicago Diversity Leadership Awards presented at the President's MLK reception Thursday, Jan. 14. The reception was part of the University's celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.

“I have the honor of recognizing two individuals whose work has embodied Dr. King's values,” said President Robert Zimmer. “It gives me great pleasure to be recognizing two people who have made strong contributions to the diversity of the University.”

Duel Richardson (AB '67), Director of Neighborhood Relations/Education in the Office of Civic Engagement, received the 2010 Diversity Leadership Staff Award. Evette Cardona (AM '98), a graduate of the School of Social Service Administration, received the 2010 Diversity Leadership Alumni Award.

This is the second year the Diversity Leadership Council - appointed in 2007 by Zimmer to support diversity on campus, in relationships in the surrounding neighborhoods and with the University's business partners - has given the Diversity Leadership Awards. Julie Peterson, Vice President of Communications, and Ken Warren, Deputy Provost for Research and Minority Issues, and the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor in English Language & Literature and the College, oversee the work of the council as its co-chairs, and they introduced the two diversity leaders at the reception.

Cardona, founder of Amigas Latinas and a program officer for the Polk Bros. Foundation, serves on boards of the Donors Forum of Illinois, Chicago Latinos in Philanthropy, and the Center on Halsted. Amigas Latinas is a non-profit, grassroots community women's organization that serves and advocates on behalf of the Latina lesbian, bisexual, queer, questioning, and transgender community.

“The diversity leadership awards are on some level about selflessness, about seeking to provide others with opportunities and promise and hope,” said Peterson, who introduced Cardona. “There are few who embody this spirit of openness and selflessness more than Evette Cardona.”

When Cardona founded Amigas Latinas 15 years ago, few such programs existed for women, much less Latina women, Peterson said. “Today this program has grown to a large and respectable organization that is making a real difference in people's lives,” she said.

“Those who have met Evette have experienced her selflessness first hand, this feeling that all are welcome and at home, and that each of us can be comfortable and free in our own life. Amigas Latinas is aptly named; when you are with the organization, or with Evette, you are with friends.”

Richardson, a 1967 graduate of the College, has founded or helped advance several University initiatives, including the Chicago Public Schools/University of Chicago Internet Project, the Neighborhood Schools Program, and the Collegiate Scholars Program.

“For over 30 years, Duel Richardson has poured his heart and soul into the creation of a truly diverse University of Chicago,” said Warren. “Students throughout Chicago, in particular on the city's South Side, benefit directly from Duel's efforts.”

Richardson is known around campus and in the community as a champion of programs and an innovator who has the energy and savvy to generate great ideas and bring them to fruition, Warren said.

“Duel approaches his work with tireless intensity and positive spirit and has been a leader in getting the University to the point where it is today, as a truly committed partner in the well-being and opportunity of all members in our community,” he said.

“One common theme in the letters nominating Duel for this award was a sense that he has often forsaken individual acknowledgment for the greater good of the University and community. This man is a believer. And we are all better off for his efforts.”

That theme of humility was evident in Richardson's acknowledgement of the recognition.

“I'm kind of stunned by this,” he said after receiving the award. “There are so many other people I would have wrapped my arms around to bring with me, if I could have. We're all in this together.”

Cardona said the work itself is inspiring. “It's always an honor and quite humbling to be recognized for one's work, even though it is not necessary, since the work is reward in itself. It is work that is good for the soul, I believe. Yet it is truly an honor to be chosen for an award conferred by this prestigious university, where I came to hone my skills and vision as a social worker and an activist,” Cardona said.

By Phil Rockrohr