Annual Birthday Celebration

Unfortunately, due to some unforeseen circumstances, the 2014 Birthday Bash has been postponed for October 2014. The exact date will be determined and announce in the next couple of weeks.  We apologize for any inconvenience and hope that we'll be able to see you all in the Fall where we will still be presenting the Legacy Award to Frank and Dolores Emspak and Visionary Award to Occupy Build, Inc. - Tiny Homes and Gardens Project. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to reach the Social Justice Center Coordinator, Cristina at 608-227-0206 or

Our 2013 Legacy Award Recipient is Barbara Vedder.  Barbara represented the County Board’s District 2 on Madison’s isthmus since 2005, and served on the Madison Common Council prior to that, from 1995 until 2001.  Supervisor Vedder was particularly active in human services and economic justice issues with the county.          

     She was  a member of the County Board’s Health and Human Needs Committee, which oversees programs that comprise over half of the county’s half billion dollar budget. Additionally, she served on the Human Services Board, the Long Term Support Committee, the Task Force on Poverty, the Dane County Task Force on Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System, the W2 Community Steering Committee, and the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Our 2013 Visionary Award Recipient is Philip Ejercito, posthumously.

Phil Ejercito was a valued and active citizen, photographer and public figure in the City of Madison who fought for social justice and access to democracy since his arrival in 1999. Phil attended UW-Madison and was an active member of Associated Students of Madison where he served on the Campus Relations committee and Vote 2002 coalition.     Phil worked with the Tenants' Resource Center and established the "Worst House in Madison" contest through his efforts with the Associated Students of Madison Tenants' Rights Campaign to bring public attention to sub-standard housing conditions within the City of Madison.

      Phil served with honor and distinction on the City of Madison’s Housing Committee for many years and was the esteemed chair of the Landlord-Tenant subcommittee and became a fixture in the City of Madison as a talented and award-winning photojournalist capturing its daily life, events and politics for Isthmus, Dane101 and The Clarion. 

      Phil consistently awed his peers and teachers at MATC, where he was pursuing a Photojournalism degree with his talent, keen eye and sense of humanity in his work.  He was ahead of the curve in 2006, pre-inventing Twitter in the form of CRASH Madison, creating a text-based communication system to relay real-time information regarding the City of Madison’s inaugural Freakfest Halloween event.       Phil Ejercito was a kind, generous, intelligent individual with a great sense of humor and decency to all those he came in contact with and touched many lives during his life through his passion and commitment to social justice and  to improving the lives of tenants and citizens through his public service, photojournalism, and dedication and commitment to housing issues, democracy and social justice.

Our 2012 Legacy Award Recipients are Charles and Constance "Chuck and Connie" Smalley

     Chuck Smalley, a rare CA native was born in Tulare, CA. Born legally blind, he graduated from UC Berkeley in 1958, with BA in social work. Chuck became the first blind social worker that Los Angeles hired. He remained there for 33 years, retiring from there in 1992.     Connie  was 8 years old when her family moved from Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Connie graduated from UCLA with a BA  political science degree and a minor in international affairs.  In 1968, she went to work for  the Department of Public Social Services (welfare department) of Los Angeles County as a Social Worker. She held this position for 11 years and in  she was transferred to the Department of the Public Guardian where she was employed as a Deputy Public Guardian for 12 ½ years. She left county service in 1992. Chuck met Connie Palmer on the job. Married on July 18, 1981, they celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in 2011.  Although they knew no one, the Smalleys  moved to Madison in September , 1995, sight unseen.  After waiting a  year to test the winter weather,  they purchased their  home in the Cherokee Marsh area, in 1996. They continue to live in that same home today.

They have been very  active in the neighborhood. Together they were part of the small group who started the Northside Farmers' Market, which is still going strong. Connie  was a member of the Northside Planning Council representing her neighborhood, Cherokee Park. She remains active in the Council's annual Northside Star Awards by nominating people who are worthy of recognition for what they have done to make the northside a better place to live. Connie, who is fluent in Spanish, has been a volunteer for Schools for Hope, for 3 years working with the Spanish speaking students at Lindbergh Elementary.

Due to Connie’s keen interest in progressive politics, Chuck  became active also. Of course, “joining forces with his wife, helps keep peace in the family.” Tammy Baldwin’s first run for her seat in the House , in 1998 was the first candidate campaign Connie became involved in. After Tammy’s race, it was a natural progression to helping elect people for our state Assembly & Senate, Dane County Board and Madison City Council.  Connie and Chuck view electing and keeping progressives in office as an act of necessity to ensure the cause of social & economic justice.  They  feel that it is incumbent on all to support many non-profits both locally and nationally so that when elected representatives let us down, the support of all sorts of  non-profits  keeps some remnant of social justice and environmental protections afloat.

 The 2012 Visionary Award Recipient is the Teaching Assistants' Association (TAA)The Teaching Assistants' Association (TAA; AFT #3220 AFL-CIO) represents nearly 3000 graduate employees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is one of the oldest graduate employee union in the world. The TAA formed in the mid-1960s out of anti-war protests and won its first contract in 1970. The TAA has been fighting for its members and the university community since its inception.Proudly member-driven and member-run, the TAA is an advocate for graduate employees and the greater university community.    In early February, upon hearing about the Walker's union-busting "Budget Repair Bill", the TAA repurposed a march planned for February 14th and marched over a thousand members of the University of Wisconsin-Madison community to the Wisconsin State Capitol.    This rally set the stage for the next three weeks, which saw tens of thousands of protesters descend on Wisconsin and sparking a three-week occupation of the building. The occupation delayed passage of the legislation and drew international attention attention to its injustices. TAA members were at the center of this fight - a fight that not only defined last Spring, but one that will continue to define the fight for worker justice not only in Wisconsin, but across the nation.


The Social Justice Center celebrated its 11th birthday on May 11, 2011 at the Goodman Community Center, at 149 Waubesa Street, on Madison's east side.The event was emceed once again this year by John Nichols, editor of The Capital Times and a contributing writer for The Nation.  In his remarks, John stated: “These are wonderful moments we are in and we would not have achieved them without the new technology of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media that five years ago we had not heard of,” Nichols told the crowd. “So it is exceptional that we get to  honor Ted Shannon [at the age of 93] for his accomplishments, but we also get to honor a young activist, Preston Austin, who for 15 years has been on the cutting edge of teaching us how to use the technology. The fact of the matter is [that] our only chance of winning the battles that are coming is to master that technology. “It doesn't matter if you are 7, 70 or 93, if we care about future movements we are involved in,” he added, “ we have to care about the technology that Preston and his people are doing as that is the future for every struggle.”  "I adore you all and so respect the work you do and the commitments made, and what you have built with the Social Justice Center,” Nichols said. “ It is an incredible institution; the incubators there keep alive active initiatives and give life to new ones in a way that we always talk about, but are now actually happening.” 

 Emcee John Nichols, announced the recipients of our 2011 Social Justice Awards: Theodore "Ted" Shannon - Legacy Award; and Preston Austin - Visionary Award. Ted Shannon is an emeritus Professor of the University of Wisconsin and a former Dean of the University Extension Division. A native of Connecticut, Ted served as a Captain in the U.S. Army during World War II assigned to the British 8th Army in the Mediterranean Theater, and later to Supreme Headquarters (SHAEF).  Like many of his generation he went to graduate school on the GI Bill, receiving his Ph.D from Yale University, where he met and married his late wife, Dorothy.

Ted and Dorothy moved to Madison in 1950 where they worked alongside Bill Proxmire, Gaylord Nelson, Robert Kastenmeier, and Jim and Ruth Doyle to revitalize the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. During the1960's the Shannons spent two years in Beirut ,Lebanon, where Ted served as the Ford Foundation's Higher Education Advisor for several countries of the Middle East. Active in many social justice causes, Ted is a co-founder of the Verna Hill and Dorothy Shannon Fund. He is also a co-founder and former board member of the Apprentice Organizers Project. Ted and his wife Kate live in Middleton and Green Valley, Arizona.


Preston Austin is passionate about far reaching change in how we communicate and has worked for 15+ years on tapping into the largely unrealized power of emerging technologies to bring that about.

Preston's strong and continuing focus remains creating and empowering others to participate in creating tools that extend human capabilities for transparently easy creation and collaborative, richly interactive use of diverse media to communicate, teach, and explain. Within this, he works to support approaches that increase the agility with which communities may self-define, communicate about, and match their needs with their assets.

A Madison entrepreneur - Preston has worked in the private sector on web and ecommerce development, with educators and government to improve access to and ability to use technology, and within the independent technical community to increase awareness of and attention to the important roles technologists play in creating leverage for community and socially focused organizations and initiatives.


Preston works to build teams and connect with others similarly engaged in this work. Where possible he tries to extend and strengthen collaborative models for harnessing individual, small team, and small business innovators’ energy and drive in this process as he believes strongly in the efficiency and effectiveness of small groups in creating value. 


Some of Preston's current initiatives include his local startup, founding The Time For the World Project with Stephanie Rearick, establishing a Coworking Foundation to support collaboration in establishing coworking and hackerspaces in our community, advising the Dane County TimeBank, TimeBanks USA, The Rainbird Foundation, and other organizations on communications strategy and technology, and helping organize events that bring together the civic hacking and business community such as BarCamp Madison and the Forward Technology Festival.

We thank all our sponsors.  Check out our photos in the Gallery below.


10th Birthday Celebration - May 13th, 2010

On Thursday, May 13th, the Social Justice Center celebrated its 10th birthday! The festivities were held  at Olbrich Garden from 5:00 - 7:00 p.m. and were emceed by John Nichols of the Capital Times/ The Nation.  The event  honored Helen Vukelich with the Legacy Award and Cynthia Lin with the Visionary Award. Both women epitomize the commitment  to social justice and social change that are the foundation from which the Social Justice Center grew. 

This Birthday celebration was bitter-sweet as it was also a time for SJC to celebrate the dedication and passion of one of the driving forces for its founding, Nan Cheney, who passed away on April 30th. Brenda Konkel, Executive Director of TRC and long-time friend of Nan, gave powerful reflections of their efforts to form SJC, and shared some memories and stories of her work with Nan's work over the past 10 years. The Raging Grannies gave song and voice to one of thier own, Nan. Carol Carstensen, President of the SJC Board of Directors announced the re-naming of the community room to the Nan Cheney Community Room and the memorial set up by the Cheney Family, to benefit the Soical Justice Center.

Brenda Konkel                       

    Brenda Konkel                                    The Raging Grannies                              Carol Carstensen

Biographies of Award HonoreesHelen Vukelich                                                                                       

Helen Vukelich has been a dynamic force for positive change for many years. We are pleased to honor her with the Social Justice Center’s Legacy Award. Helen’s important work on the Fair Housing Act in 1963 and the peace movement in the late '60s were just the beginning of a lifetime of public service to Wisconsin. She worked as an aide to US Representative Robert Kastenmeier and has been an important supporter of and force behind the Friends of South Madison Neighborhood Center, the Genesis Development Corporation, the Urban League of Greater Madison and the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua.  Helen and her late husband George Vukelich, or Papa Hambone, as he was known on WIBA and Wisconsin Public Radio, were known for decades for their contributions to progressive political and social justice activism in Wisconsin. Their caring and engaged children and grandchildren exemplify their legacy in our community. When Helen received the Rev. James C. Wright Human Rights Award in 1999, she was described as embodying “Passionate attention to justice and fair play. Her ability to give aid and succor to fellow humans is fueled by an amazing empathy for troubled lives. She has sensitivity and insight both political and emotional into the truth of any situation. Politically astute and active. Modest about her own achievements. Generous with time and energy—a giving person. Keen sense of humor. Brings out the best in others. Is a genius at networking on behalf of justice and equality.”Cynthia Lin                                                                                                   Cynthia Lin was presented with the Social Justice Center’s Visionary Award. Cynthia cut her teeth in organizing and social justice work here in Madison, where she found herself in a resilient, powerful, and loving community of people and organizations. She is a volunteer organizer with Operation Welcome Home, a group of people affected by homelessness and allies like Cynthia who mobilize against the root causes of homelessness. Cynthia is also a board member of Freedom, Inc., a group that does community organizing and anti-violence work in low-income communities of color. She is currently employed as a social justice educator at the Multicultural Student Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she trains students on social justice, community organizing, and social movement topics. Cynthia’s vision for social change centers on people affected by systems of oppression being the leaders and agents for change. Cynthia seeks to strengthen cultures of collective liberation and mutual aid, de-colonization, accountability, and ally-ship. Not yet 30 years old, Cynthia is the daughter of Shiang-Hua and Miin-Ron Lin, originally from Taiwan.

For information about  Nan Cheney Memorial Donations please contact Jeanne Erickson, SJC Program Coordinator @ 608-227-0206 or

All Albums » 9th Birthday Celebration - 2009 Search Tags