Dianne Jackson and Anissa McLendon received the Jan Allen Award from the Chapel Hill chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) on Oct. 10 for their work helping women and young girls in Chapel Hill.
They are the first women to receive the Jan Allen Award.
Jackson is an educational justice advocate. As a member of the NAACP Education Committee, she helped start the Learning Bridge program, alongside Laila Bradford, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Learning Bridge program offers virtual tutoring as well as on-site tutoring for students in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.
“We started in Elliot Woods housing development, and then the Church of Reconciliation has let us use the space free for now,” Jackson said. “We have kids who come on a regular basis, two times a week. They have been doing this since the beginning of the pandemic, and we do on-site tutoring for elementary kids.”
Jackson said she has been doing this kind of work since the 1980s.
“I came here as a librarian in the '80s and was immediately concerned about what they call the 'achievement gap,' but I call it the 'opportunity gap,'” Jackson said. “I was concerned about the perception of the community as it relates to educational achievement for kids of color.”
Jackson said that when she came to Chapel Hill, she noticed some of the teachers were doubting the ability of their students.
“I think that led me to become an advocate,” Jackson said.
McLendon, the other recipient of the Jan Allen Award, created the Empowering Excellence Through Exploration Camp (E3 Camp), an arts and STEM camp for Black middle and high school students.
McLendon said it was her grandmother who inspired her to start her work.
“Honestly, it came from my grandmother,” McLendon said. “That was her thing when I was probably four years old. You were instilled in doing something — if that was just picking up trash or following her to someone’s house who was sick and shut-in.”
She also said that her mother was involved in politics, and even helped pass out voting literature with her mother on occasion.
“Wherever there was a need, you jumped in it,” McLendon said. “As you got older, it was just instilled and you just kept doing it.”
Gerrie Richards, the president of Chapel Hill NOW, said the Jan Allen award was created to recognize the work women are doing to help other local women and girls.
“We created the Jan Allen Award both to recognize women who are now living in Orange County or Chatham County and doing work for women and girls here in the local area, and also to keep the memory and to continue to inspire people with things Jan Allen was able to do,” Richards said.
The award's namesake, Jan Allen served as president of Chapel Hill NOW. She also co-founded Lillian’s List, a progressive women's political group in 1997 and is a “vital source of support for women candidates in North Carolina,” Richards said.
“Jan Allen was a very well-known feminist and activist in Chapel Hill,” Richards said. “A lot of people admired her.”
The award was originally going to be given to one person, but Richards said the members of the local NOW chapter chose Jackson and McLendon to receive it.
“We originally had planned just to have one person, but here we have these two wonderful women, and we couldn’t help not identifying both of them and recognizing both of them for the work they have done and continue to do,” Richards said.
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