Meet the Winners of Our 2019 Unity Awards

This year's winners are advocates for those in crisis, for the physically and mentally disabled, and for those from different cultures, genders, races and religious backgrounds.

By Staff January 4, 2019

With its annual Unity Awards, Sarasota Magazine celebrates the people, companies and projects that advance equality, diversity and inclusion in our community and around the world. This year's Unity Award winners are advocates for those in crisis, for the physically and mentally disabled, and for those from different cultures, genders, races and religious backgrounds. To join us in celebrating these remarkable individuals, join as at our Unity Awards Celebration & Luncheon, which takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at Michael's on East, 1212 S. East Ave., Sarasota. Tickets are $65.

We're proud to announce this year's winners:

  • DEMETRIUS JIFUNZA Paralegal, speaker, social activist, vice president and Florida Rights Restoration Coalition chapter president; leading advocate and instrumental in passage of Amendment 4; pastor, Mt. Olive CME Church; and member of the board at the Sarasota Ministerial Association. 

  • SHANNON FORTNER Founder and organizer of the Harvey Milk Festival. The mission of the Harvey Milk Festival is to honor the life of Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay Americans elected to public office, by fostering emerging talent in musicians and artists who support diversity and reject discrimination, and to promote equality for LGBTQ people through supporting equal rights legislation.

  • HECTOR TEJEDA Born in Guatemala, Tejeda emigrated to the U.S. when he was a baby with a 16-year-old mother who had to clean homes to support them. He ended up in foster care during different periods of his life. He overcame adversity and received a Harvard master of business administration, worked in corporate America and currently volunteers at UnidosNow, helping hundreds of Hispanic students go to college.

  • CLAUDIA BAEZA Owner of Pineapple Yoga, Baeza donates free yoga classes to people in need, from Parkinson's patients to addicts to the disabled to juveniles in detention. She started a nonprofit, the Dharma Footprint Project to support her studio's free programs.

  • PAMELA FAZIO Volunteer and county director for Manatee County Special Olympics; two-time winner of the Bill Crutchfield Award, given annually to an individual volunteer who demonstrates outstanding service at the county level in Florida. She has been a volunteer for over 26 years and now oversees 300-plus athletes. Pamela is inspired by her disabled daughter.

  • DR. APRIL GLASCO Founder of Newtown's Second Chance Last Opportunity, which helps families in crisis. She has been running the grassroots organization for 28 years and overcame her own disadvantages to earn a doctorate in mental health counseling.

  • MARY BRAXTON-JOSEPH Chair of the Asolo Rep's IllumiNation Committee, which advocates for greater diversity among patrons and the board.

  • BOB AND PATRICIA GUSSIN Retired top administrators from Johnson & Johnson, they started scholarships at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County. They provide full-ride scholarships to several young people every year to attend their alma mater, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. They are also very involved with Friendship Centers of Sarasota and the Library Foundation.

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