Click here to nominate for our 2020 Unity Awards

 

Fear and division may be the news of the day, but not everyone is fanning the flames or glued to their screens watching the fires roar. The nine men and women you’ll meet on these pages are telling a different story—a story of compassion, hope and determination to embrace and empower their neighbors of every color, social class, sexual orientation and age.

Our winners are everyday people who did something extraordinary. They looked around, saw people who were ignored, suffering or trapped in dire circumstances, and decided to help. They invested their energy, talent and resources in helping strangers’ dreams come true—or, in many cases, convincing strangers they had the right to dream at all. Their combined impact has been enormous, changing thousands of lives here in Sarasota and Manatee and touching more than a million around the state. They are living proof of the truth of the late anthropologist Margaret Mead’s declaration: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

In This Feature:

Demetrius Jifunza Helped 1.6 Million Floridians Win Back Their Right to Vote

Jifunza founded the Sarasota chapter of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, the statewide organization behind Amendment 4, a measure created to restore voting rights to most felons after they have completed their sentence.

01/24/2019 By Cooper Levey-Baker

Shannon Fortner Started a Festival That Unites Thousands for Sexual and Gender Equality

Fortner believes the Harvey Milk Festival has changed hearts, minds and lives, including her own.

01/24/2019 By Isaac Eger

Claudia Baeza Gives Free Yoga Classes to Those Who Need Them Most

"Years of therapy did not help me this much.”

01/24/2019 By Megan McDonald

Bob and Pat Gussin Keep Seniors Healthy, Promote Literacy and Send Kids to College

The Gussins have more energy than a roomful of preschoolers and see opportunities around every corner.

01/24/2019 By Susan Burns

Dr. April Glasco Helps People Who’ve Hit Bottom Start Over

Having found her own second chance, Glasco wanted others to have theirs, too.

01/24/2019 By Kay Kipling

Because of Hector Tejeda, Students Dare to Dream of—and Enroll in—College

Tejeda has helped 400 students enroll in college.

01/24/2019 By Isaac Eger

Mary Braxton-Joseph Taps Into the Magic of Live Theater to Spark Cross-Cultural Connections

Braxton-Joseph is sharing stories about diversity through live theater.

01/24/2019 By Kay Kipling

Pam Fazio Goes to Bat for Manatee County’s Special Olympics Athletes

Fazio oversees more than 300 athletes age 8 to 70, coaching bocce, bowling and swimming, and training potential new coaches across Southwest Florida.

01/24/2019 By Ilene Denton