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The JEGNA Award

JEGNA means courage, strength and protection of our culture, land and people.  This award is presented to an active member who personifies these qualities.  This award will recognize outstanding contributions to NBSN and/or advocacy on behalf of African American employees of NEA and its affiliates.  In the African culture, JEGNA is a title of distinction.  In Africa, the master teacher is so revered.  Its foundation is “Excellence in our own tradition.”  The 2015 recipient will be presented this prestigious honor during the Awards Banquet on Saturday, February 21, 2015.  

JEGNA (Jegnoch, plural) are those special people who have (1) been tested in struggle or battle, (2) demonstrated extraordinary and unusual fearlessness, (3) shown determination and courage in protecting his/her people, land and culture, (4) shown diligence and dedication to our people, (5) produced exceptionally high quality work, and (6) dedicated themselves to the protection, defense, nurturance, and development of our young by advancing our people, place and culture.  JEGNA is one whose central focus is on the culture and character of one’s people and who vows to speak the truth.  In order to become a JEGNA, one has to make a life and death decision.  That is, the JEGNA must be willing to put everything (career, reputation, and status) on the line for what they believe.

Na Ezaleli is a Lingala word from the Bantu-Congo peoples of Central Africa.  Almost forty percent of our ancestors came from this region.  The phrase “Na Zali Na Ezaleli” means, “I am with existence or essence,” from Na Ezaleli to the JEGNA represents the intention to understand the importance of going from one’s essence (Na Ezaleli) to the position of elder (JEGNA).  An elder is a person who is still growing, still a learner, still with potential and whose life continues to have within it promise for and connection to the future.  An elder is a person who deserves respect and honor and whose work it is to synthesize wisdom from long life experience and formulate this into a legacy for future generations. 

Among the many great ancient African teachers, leaders, healer communities in our traditions, are that community in Ethiopia, the JEGNA.  There is no higher model in any culture anywhere than that of the JEGNA.

Click here to download a copy of the JEGNA Nomination Award nominating form.

The Sam Ethridge Award

Sam Ethridge worked for the NEA from 1964 to 1984, and had an outstanding career as an Association Executive.  Sam soothed the paths for the NEA-ATA merger and negotiated delicate issues such as NEA’s participation in school desegregation litigation, employment of staff in the formerly dual southern states and correction of inequitable and unequal racial treatment of educators and students.  In 1972, NEA created a Teacher’s Rights unit and named Sam Ethridge as its first leader.  The unit administered the Center for Human Relations, the DuShane Emergency Fund for Teacher Rights, Professional Rights and Responsibilities Commission and the Ethics Commission.  Coretta Scott King said, “Sam Ethridge was a fine educator and dedicated professional of the NEA, who also cared deeply about promoting the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the nation’s schools.  He was a valued and dedicated long time member of the King Center’s Board of Directors, representing the NEA and we are fortunate to benefit from his friendship, support and advice.” 

One of the things that Sam harped on was to never end a meeting without lighting a candle so that we would not curse the darkness.  He often said, “Pay yourself first.”  Sam believed in taking his raises and putting them in the bank so that he would always own himself.  He urged Black Staff to strive to have a year’s salary in the bank to make easier for us to stand on our principles.  He warned us to stay strong and never let the work own us.  “Read the tea leaves,” he said to the staff at a meeting in San Francisco.  He believed in always looking to the future.  And finally, Sam always wanted us to remember why Matthew Henson was selected to go to the North Pole.  It wasn’t because he was black, but because he knew the language.  He coined the phrase – Speak Eskimo!  All of us need to be unique. 

Sam was a convener, one who brought groups together to talk about the tough stuff.  He cam when US cities were burning – when our hopes were being uplifted and stomped down all in a flash of a news event.  Let’s remember that Sam built bridges for us to cross.  In his life of Association staff work, we must always remember “how we got ovah!” 

The NBSN Sam Ethridge Award honors a non-NBSN member who has made an outstanding contribution to education, particularly in the African-American community.  The 2015 recipient will be presented this prestigious award during the Awards Banquet on Saturday, February 15, 2015. Click here to download a copy of the Sam Ethridge Award nominating form.

A candle in the dark
A word to soothe the heart
Knowledge beyond compare
Sam Ethridge touched us all.

 ~ by
Tamara Smiley Hamilton


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Last updated: 12/17/11