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The following is a slightly edited version of the awards’ presentation speech by WV CAG Board member Sally Roberts Wilson:
I am very honored today to be able to present the Don Marsh & Paul Nyden Public Service Award to two of the most joyfully and soulfully committed individuals to the furtherance of justice and equity in our state, our country and our world that I have been graced to work beside and also call friends: Crystal Good, an Affrilachian artist, social advocate, digital media entrepreneur, founder, publisher and Editor of Black By God the West Virginian, and the fiercely committed reproductive and social equity advocate, Emily Thompson, Director of Organizing for Planned Parenthood Votes South Atlantic.
Unfortunately Crystal has recently been under the weather and is recovering so cannot be here in person today, but let me tell you a few things about this remarkable person and why we are so pleased to honor her..
She is a member of the Affrilachian Poets, a group of writers and artists whose creations and existence combat the erasure of African American identity in the Appalachian region, an Irene McKinney Scholar, and author of Valley Girl. She is the founder and CEO of Mixxed Media, a marketing and consulting firm that teaches media and engagement strategies to mission-driven organizations, and she has been a member of the band Heroes Are Gang Leaders. She also works as an advocate for the environment, education, and economic actions like industrial hemp, and she is creating a digital commons for voters to express their concerns through her self-made position of Social Media Senator for West Virginia. Crystal Good has spoken and read her poetry in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, at the West Virginia section of the Women’s March on Washington, for the 2013 TEDx conference in Lewisburg, West Virginia, for the LouderARTS Project, for the Appalachian Mountain Advocates, and for students and scholars at several universities and colleges.
I remember first meeting Crystal Good in the halls of the legislature as we were waiting on a bench to be let in to speak to our Senator. We struck up a conversation and by the end of the day I was telling her that she needed to run for office! (And I still tell her that whenever I see her – and she is everywhere there is something to be done.She even grabbed me to take a selfie with Sen.Bernie Sanders when we were in DC fighting for Build Back Better and Voting Rights and she was filming for CNN.) But her creativity and love for writing have taken her into other avenues of important civic engagement work and that is in the Fourth Estate with her commitment to continuing the important legacy of Black journalism and newspapers in America. Her commitment to reporting and lifting up stories about, by and for the African American community is part of a legacy that has preserved important parts of our rich collective history that would otherwise have been unreported, falsely co-opted or corrupted, buried and forgotten. She has helped to move the content to the mediums of the 21st Century and will ensure that this rich history continues. And, that we are made aware of the contributions, so generally overlooked, unappreciated and marginalized, of the people in our communities who are doing such important work today.
Paul Nyden, was a crusading investigative reporter with the Charleston Gazette, and Don Marsh was the paper’s logn-time editor. Both were known for taking on powerful special interests, challenging political leaders, and shining a light on political corruption in the state. And both were advocates for social, civil, and environmental justice reforms, and the people of West Virginia, and for this reason there can be no more fitting and deserving recipient of this award than West Virginia’s own, and an American Treasure, Crystal Good.
And next, I am so honored to also present this award to another warrior for freedom and justice, Emily Thompson, Director of Organizing for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic Votes. Sadly, Emily is also unable to be here with us today but we are so pleased to be able to present the award to her beloved father, Tom, on her behalf.
Emily Thompson was born and raised in Point Pleasant and returned home to West Virginia when she joined the Planned Parenthood South Atlantic team in the fall of 2016 as the state’s community organizer. She moved into the Director of Organizing role in 2018, where she managed advocacy efforts in West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. She was recently promoted to Deputy Director for Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic, the organization’s political and advocacy arm and Director of Campaigns for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. In these roles, she continues to work across four states to manage the organization’s advocacy and accountability work.
Emily’s infectious enthusiasm and warm smile were an instant draw to the many hours of tabling she did when I first met her- from the Pride Parades to our Health Care for All events she was there with t-Shirts, sign up sheets and educational materials for reproductive choices. What really impressed me was her steadfast commitment to inclusion, racial equity and support of the LGBTQ community and especially the Trans community. And, like Crystal she was everywhere – in the halls of the legislature working to improve the lives of children in foster care, to provide coverage for postpartum health care, menstrual equity for school children and those in prison and of course defending reproductive freedoms, and also in the streets canvassing and working to elect those who would fight for the cause of reproductive justice. She is unstoppable.
What is equally remarkable is that she has often done this work without the explicit support of other progressive organizations who have tended to shy away from the controversial subject of abortion. She has had to do this work under threats and duress and with a fearlessness that true leaders possess. She has had the wonderful support of those in her organization and the reproductive community but often was in a position apart from the support that others in the general progressive community could count on. It did not stop her or make her give up. In the words of a great Senator, She Persisted – and still she persists.
As we are all too aware the legislature has just dealt us a tremendous blow in WV (and a plug for each and everyone of you to call Gov. Justice to demand a veto – I’m sure Emily wouldn’t mind) but it is Emily and her wonderful co-workers in WV, like Emily Wolmendorf, Alisa Clements, and Ixya Vega to name a few, who will not give up the fight and will press on to retain our bodily autonomy, privacy and individual freedom of choice. With Emily’s infectious enthusiasm, her wonderful smile, her incredible work ethic and energy I am sure we will not fail!
And so I am very proud today to be able to present the Don Marsh & Paul Nyden Public Service Award to Emily Thompson for her fearlessness, her courage, and her unwavering commitment to reproductive liberty, freedom and justice for all.