The three recipients of the 32nd annual Pauli Murray Award were announced by the Orange County Human Relations Commission on Sunday.
Established over three decades ago, the award honors the late Rev. Pauli Murray who served the community in pursuit of equality, justice and human rights. Murray was the first African American to receive a doctorate degree in the science of law from the Yale Law School.
Throughout their life, Murray championed diversity and advocated in the civil rights and women’s rights movements. They were a "distinguished and remarkable person who confronted discrimination, racism, and sexism," according to the award description.
Each year, there is an adult winner, youth winner and business winner of the Pauli Murray Award.
Laila Bradford, who works in the IT department at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, was this year's adult winner.
She is an advocate for youth and families in the community, fondly known as "Mommy Laila." On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at her home, Bradford provides tutoring, mentoring, craft activities and technology resources for students.
She founded Creative S.W.A.G., an organization of elementary to high school-aged girls that focuses on teaching them to pursue personal goals while creating a lasting sisterhood.
“I find the work enriching and loving," Bradford said. "The truth is I feel blessed because it's not only my family that has grown. It's not just my blood family, but my community is my family, and I feel incredibly blessed to have such a beautiful, amazing community.”
After finding out that some her students didn't have the sanitary items they needed, Bradford helped create safety bags for girls who asked for feminine hygiene products, lotions, deodorants and more.
"You don't have to have a whole lot to give," she said.
This year's youth winner of the Pauli Murray award was Kendall Lytle, a senior at Middle College High School at Durham Technical Community College.
Lytle serves as president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Youth Council, and she has advocated for marginalized communities, working to raise awareness in the community about the issues that people from underrepresented groups face.
“I believe wholeheartedly that social justice and civil rights and things of that topic are what I was put in place on this planet to do," she said. "What is most gratifying is just knowing that I'm contributing, even if it's just a little millimeter of progress to the community or to the state or the country.”
Lytle said change doesn't occur without action, and people — especially the youth — must seek change in order to see change in the world.
In the fall, she will attend Elon University and expects to major in political science and minor in sociology. She plans to come back to work with the community while at school through mentoring future leaders of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Youth Council.
Habitat for Humanity of Orange County was the business winner of the Pauli Murray Award. The organization has been in the county since 1984 and builds homes for families in need.
Laine Staton, vice president of homeowner services at the organization, said Habitat aims to build around 20 homes a year for families in the county.
Staton said hearing about Murray’s activism and work for underrepresented communities from speakers at this year's award ceremony was inspiring.
“It also felt very aligned with the work that I do at Habitat or the work that Habitat does," she said. "Yes, we build houses that people will then move into, but for our work, it's so much bigger than just owning a home.”
Staton said the power of community is what allows Habitat to be able to help families in need.
"We were really flattered to be nominated because we want to know that we're doing right by our county," she said.
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