Pictured left to right: Rohina Malik, Alaka Wali, YWCA President/CEO Karen Singer, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Evanston-North Shore Alumnae Chapter President Nell Rice, Mercedes Fernandez.              Photo by Genie Lemieux, Evanston Photographic Studios

Selected for their outstanding commitment to women’s empowerment, racial justice and social change, Alaka Wali, Mercedes Fernandez, Rohina Malik, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority were honored before a packed audience of over 400 at the sixth annual YWomen Leadership Awards Benefit last month.

“Our 2013 YWomen honorees come from India, Peru, England and the United States, but they have so much in common,” said Karen Singer, president and CEO of the YWCA Evanston/North Shore. “Each of our honorees chooses to see the world through the lens of a common humanity and each chooses to use her voice, be it through anthropology, theater, organizing, or mentoring, to create communities in which all individuals and cultures are better understood, valued, included and have equal opportunities to thrive.”

 Anthropologist Alaka Wali is the founder of the Chicago Cultural Alliance and curator and research director at the Field Museum in Chicago. “Understanding the reasons for differences helps us to take the value judgment out of different,” she said.  “It helps us live in mutual respect with people whose beliefs are different from our own.”

Mercedes Fernandez founded Latinos in Skokie and is the Latino liaison coordinator at Evanston Township High School. A human-rights advocate in her native Peru, Ms. Fernandez founded Latinos in Skokie to empower Latino families there.

 Rohina Malik, the Lorraine H. Morton Woman of Promise honoree, is a Chicago-based playwright, actress and solo performance artist. A Chicago Dramatist’s resident playwright, she uses art to expose racism and prejudice, particularly as they affect non-muslims understanding of Muslim women.

Also honored was Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, the second-oldest African American sorority in the world. Its mission is to provide assistance and support through established programs in local communities throughout the world. Two local initiatives, Delta Gems and Delta Academy, provide the framework for at-risk adolescent girls to realize their dreams through education and academic enrichment, community involvement and sisterhood.

Presented by BMO Harris Bank and co-chaired by Susan Hope Engel and Niki Horrell of Evanston, the benefit grossed more than $100,000 to support YWCA programs that empower women, including financial literacy classes and domestic violence services, which are provided free of charge to the community. A link to the YWomen film about the honorees by filmmaker Susan Hope Engel will be available at ywca.org/evanston.