Left to right, Bottom row: Fritzie Fritzshall, Mary Morten. Top row: Kourtney Cockrell; Susan Abrams; Karen Singer; Gail Vierneisel; Susan Hope Engel.Photo courtesy of YWCA Evanston/North Shore

Selected for their outstanding commitment to women’s empowerment, racial justice and social change, three women and one institution were honored at the seventh annual YWomen Leadership Awards Benefit on Oct. 22. The awardees were Mary Morten, Gail Vierneisel, Kourtney Cockrell and Illinois Holocaust Museum.

The theme of the event, “Tipping the Balance,’’ is based on an Alice Walker quote: “There is as much human capacity as there is human cruelty in the world, and it is up to every one of us to tip the balance.”

“You can replace those words with equity and inequity, justice and injustice,” said Karen Singer, president and CEO of the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, “but what is important is that each of us continues to work, individually and collectively, to tip that balance towards equity and justice. In different ways, each of our honorees uses their voice to give voice to others – bridging diverse communities, breaking down barriers, opening up access and opportunity and sharing stories so we will never forget our common humanity.”

Ms. Morten, president of Morten Group, has dedicated her career to advocating for women, people of color and the LGBTQ community, most recently producing and directing the award-winning documentary film “Woke Up Black.’’ “I think being able to lift up the voices and the stories of people who are marginalized and in some cases just don’t have any sort of voice is really important,” she said.

Ms. Vierneisel, assistant state’s attorney serving Cook County, is a tireless defender of the survivors of domestic abuse. “I want the victims to know,” she said “that there is no shame in telling people what’s been going on.”

Ms. Cockrell, who received the Lorraine H. Morton Woman of Promise Award, is director of the Center for Student Enrichment Services at Northwestern. “There’s a huge need here in Evanston and in Chicago,” she said, “and I would really like to prepare these students to go on and to pave the way for their community and their families.”

Also honored was the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. The center, which is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Holocaust, honors the memories of those who were lost by teaching universal lessons that combat hatred and prejudice. “We’re teaching these universal stories,” said Susan Abrams, CEO of the Museum. “This is a humanity issue … if people don’t stand up and act, then these are things that happen over and over again.”