Rosena J. Willis (1926–1970) was a displaced Black teacher who lost her job when her school district in Virginia closed all public schools rather than desegregate. Joining the NEA staff, Ms. Willis worked diligently to implement the NEA merger with the American Teachers Association.

A superb facilitator and organizer, Ms. Willis also worked with NEA state and local affiliates to help them bring minority members into the activities and leadership of the association. NEA presents two Rosena J. Willis Memorial Awards to NEA affiliates that involve NEA members in advocacy for minority students and families, minority parent involvement in schools, and community outreach. The state affiliate award is presented in odd-numbered years, and the local affiliate award in even-numbered years.

To be eligible for the local affiliate award, the nominated local affiliate must meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Involve more minority members in the work and leadership of the association by providing them an opportunity for leadership training and encouraging their activism in local association committees and campaigns.
  • Provide NEA members with the opportunity to become activists in the human and civil rights movement of our day, especially in the battles where the health and well-being of minority students and their families are at stake.
  • Involve NEA members in the fight for ethnic studies and immigrant rights as well as in initiatives that champion preschool and kindergarten for all minority students, smaller class sizes, and tutoring for any student who falls behind in her/his studies.
  • Establish outreach programs in which NEA members listen to minority families, connect with them, and then help them become more involved in the education of their children.
  • Promote the teaching of social justice in our schools to students, and during in-service and pre-service training for educators and in association training for members.

To be eligible for the state affiliate award, the nominated state affiliate must meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Encourage and assist local associations in implementing one or more of the criteria cited in the Local Affiliate Award.
  • Successfully involve more minority members in the work and leadership of the association.
  • Establish your organization as one of the leading advocates for minority students and families in your state, especially in regard to closing achievement gaps, reducing dropouts, and increasing access to college.
  • Forge cooperative working relationships with other groups in your state that are fighting for NEA’s core values of equal opportunity and a just society for all.
  • Sow the seeds of human and civil rights activism among your members by promoting the inclusion of social justice education during in-service and preservice programs as well as in association training.

State award given in odd-numbered years; local award in even-numbered years.

2021 HCR Awards Honorees