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The following is a slightly edited version of the award presentation speech by WV CAG Project Manager, Julie Archer:
Good evening everyone. Thanks for joining us this evening. It is my honor, having had the pleasure of working with our recipient, to be able to present the Thomas A. Knight Excalibur Award to Takeiya Smith, founder and Executive Director of Young WV Forward.
Our board member, Loretta Young, who has also worked closely with Takeiya over the past few years, was supposed to be making this presentation, but she was delayed returning from Washington, DC where she traveled this week to celebrate the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.
So I will try to give Takeiya’s accomplishments justice, although I did not have as much time to prepare these remarks as I would have liked.
Over the last 7 years, Takeiya has collaborated with community members, advocates, and allies to address racial justice matters in West Virginia ranging from equity on campuses, the school to prison pipeline, disparities in policing, economic justice and combating voter suppression. She is leading a youth and Black led movement empowering students to mobilize in their own communities to make change in the systems impacting our daily lives.
One thing that came to mind for me is that all of our awardees are on the front lines of critical issues facing our state and nation, and our society as a whole, as we struggle to defend our most basic fundamental rights including our right to live free from discrimination, our right to privacy and bodily autonomy, and the right to vote.
The backlash against the Black Live Matters movement for racial justice and equality is alive and well and the growing effort to censor and punish educators and keep them from having truthful and honest discussions with our kids about systemic racism, oppression and privilege is a part of that backlash. Radical politicians have used this frenzy to pass laws that are anti-student and anti-learning. These policies claim to protect students and give voice to parents. But instead, they erase history and limit independent thought. Fighting this attack on education so that every student has an opportunity to succeed and thrive, is currently a major focus of Takeiya’s work with Campaign Our Shared Future, where she works as a Development and Organizing Associate. This is just one of the many hats she wears, including serving as the President of the Berkeley County Diversity Council and on the board of the Women’s Health Center of WV.
Takeiya’s accomplishments are too numerous to mention here, and it speaks volumes that she has already been recognized many times for her work and accomplishments including being the recipient of the 2020-21 Beacon Award for her movement building work informing, supporting, and connecting youth to social action and advocacy to address racial issues and make our communities, campuses and systems more equitable, compassionate and just. Most recently, WV Living Magazine named her a 2022 West Virginia Wonder Woman.
I know that Takeiya has many years ahead of her, she will continue to inspire and be a source of strength and wisdom to those she has worked with, mentored, and become friends with through her organizing and advocacy.
For her leadership and commitment to racial, social and economic justice and working to improve the quality of life for all West Virginians, please join me in congratulating this year’s Thomas A. Knight Excalibur Award recipient, Takieya Smith.