The City's Human Rights Awards have been honoring individuals, businesses, or organizations whose ongoing work, service, or contributions have positively impacted Human Rights either locally or abroad since 1984. The 2023 nomination form is located online

Watch the 2022 Awards Ceremony

The Iowa City Human Rights Commission has selected the following individuals and organizations to be honored with the 38th Annual Human Rights Awards:

Mary Issah has been awarded the Isabel Turner Award for her work as the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Johnson County for more than 15 years. In that role, Issah has forged relationships throughout the country and community in order to more effectively serve those with mental illness in Johnson County and across Iowa.

Na Li has been awarded the Rick Graf Award for long-term commitment to a specific cause for the benefit of a specific group of persons. As president of the Iowa City Area Chinese Association (ICACA), Li has organized numerous events to make Iowa City and the surrounding area a welcoming and more inclusive place for the Asian community. Li has also spoken out against bigotry and violence directed at Asians.

Francine Spencer-Thompson, executive director of the Emma Goldman Clinic, has been awarded the Linda Severson Award for contributions to human rights by an individual in a service organization. Spencer-Thompson was lauded for 35 years of serving the community at the clinic and for inspiring younger generations to continue the fight for reproductive justice.

Iowa City Bike Library and its executive director, Audrey Wiedemeier, are the recipients of the Bill Reagan Community Award for contributions to human rights by an organization. Since its inception in 2004, the Bike Library has strived to eliminate financial and cultural barriers to bicycling for all individuals in the community. Wiedemeier is co-founder of Women Empowerment Ride (W.E. Ride), a program for girls to develop confidence and skills through biking and has also encouraged all women-identifying and persons who are gender non-conforming to participate in at W/T/F (Women/Trans/Femme) Night.

Jocelyn M. Williams has been awarded the Kenneth Cmiel Award for actively working in the human rights field in a dedicated and determined way. Williams, a former intern with The Housing Fellowship and graduate student in the University of Iowa's School of Planning and Public Affairs, has demonstrated a strong commitment to the idea of housing as a human right and shows curiosity in how to best achieve greater equity in housing in the community. 

Mary Kenyon is the recipient of the International Award for significant contributions to human rights in the global community. Kenyon has drawn praise for the countless hours spent helping people of diverse backgrounds within the community, particularly persons of color. Kenyon is Secretary and a member of Black Voices Project and has worked behind the scenes to help persons of color running for public office. 

State Sen. Joe Bolkcom has been awarded the Heather Shank Lifetime Achievement Award for his three decades of service to the people of Johnson County. After serving with the Johnson County Board of Supervisors from 1993 to 1998, Bolkcom was elected to the Iowa Senate in 1998. Bolkcom has championed human rights across the state throughout his career and has been a strong advocate for families and individuals whose incomes do not exceed 50 percent of the median income, public education, affordable housing, disability rights, labor rights and more. 


Nomination Form and Award Descriptions

The 2023 nomination form is located online. 

Individuals, businesses, or organizations may be nominated in the following categories:

Isabel Turner

Isabel Turner, for whom the award is named, was an activist for human rights and the environment in Iowa City for many years. As a member of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee of the Johnson County Regional Planning Commission (now Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County) from 1974-1980, she helped develop the county-wide transportation plan. Mrs. Turner served on the City of Iowa City Human Rights Commission from 1981 to 1984. Until her death in 1985, Isabel Turner worked for the rights of individuals to get fair treatment. Her volunteer service to the community, which covered many areas for many years, is her continuing legacy.

1984: Marian Coleman, 1985: Duane Rohovit, 1986: Ardath Jagnow, 1987: Mary McCollum, 1988: Rick Graf, 1989: Betty McKray, 1990: Anne Riley, 1991: Dolores Nesbitt, 1992: Phillip Jones, 1993: Agnes Kuhn, 1994: Marge Penney, 1995: Ed Arensdorf, 1996: Susanne Watson, 1997: Jean Shoots, 1998: Hani Elkadi, 1999: Karen Kubby, 2000: Jude West, 2001: Asma Taha, 2002: Mary Larew, 2003: Leonard Sandler, 2004: Ron Hall, 2005: Barbara Schwartz, 2006: Dorothy Paul, 2007: Royceann Porter, 2008: Sandy Pickup, 2009: Janet Schlapkoh, 2010: Joyce Carman, 2011: Henri Harper, 2012: Tom Widmer, 2013: Bob Welsh, 2014: Mike Quinlan, 2015: Charlie Eastham, 2016: Tammy Nyden, 2017: Helen Paige Martin, 2018: Susan Craig, 2019: Jesse Case, 2020: Leslie & Scott Carpenter, 2021: Jema Lidral, 2022: Mary Issah

Linda Severson

This award was established in 1984 in an effort to recognize outstanding contributions to human rights by an individual in a service organization. In 2011, it was renamed the Linda Severson Award in recognition of Linda’s exemplary lifelong service to the community.

1984: Karla Miller, 1985: Pat Meyers, 1986: Dr. Classie Hoyle, 1987: John Dyson, 1988: Jean Hagen, 1989: Mary Martinez, 1990: Victor Manuel Arango, 1991: Dorothy Paul, 1992: Carol Thompson, 1993: Jason Chen, 1994: David Leshtz and Barbara Smith, 1995: Carol Spaziani, 1996: Cynthia Coffin, 1997: Ruth Wagner, 1998: Lori Bears, 1999: C. E. Peterson, 2000: Sally Murray, 2001: Reverend David Schuldt, 2002: Monique Dicarlo, 2003: Rita Offutt, 2004: Mary McCue, 2005: William Gorman, 2006: Crissy Canganelli, 2007: Allan Axeen, 2008: Annie Tucker, 2009: Christine Scheetz,  2010: Sue Freeman, 2011: Joan Cook, 2012: David Leshtz, 2013: Kafi Dixon, 2014: Ginny Naso, 2015: RaQuishia Harrington, 2016: Jeanne Nunley, 2017: David Schwindt, 2018: Kevin Sanders, 2019: Angie Jordan, 2020: Ron Berg, 2021: Sara Barron, 2022: Francine Spencer-Thompson


The International Award was established in 1998 to recognize the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights. The award acknowledges significant contributions to human rights in the global community.

1998: Burns Weston and James Anaya, 1999: Paul Retish, 2000: Jael Silliman, 2001: Dr. Philip Hottel, 2003: Gayane Torosyan, 2004: Chivy Sok, 2005: William Olin, D.D.S., 2006: Dr. Maureen McCue, 2007: Katy Hansen, 2009: Jill Schnoebelen, 2011: Attorney Dan Vondra, 2012: Clifford Missen, 2013: Yashar Vasef, 2014: Dr. Christopher Buresh, 2018: Refugee and Immigrant Association, 2019: Kevin Sanders, 2020: Mohammed Abu Hasan, 2021: Dr. Emily Sinnwell and David Goodner, 2022: Mary Kenyon

Bill Reagan

The community award was established in 1984 to recognize outstanding contributions by a business or organization to human rights. In 2013, the award was renamed the Bill Reagan Community Award in recognition of Bill’s exemplary years of service to the disabled community as the Executive Director of the Arc of Southeast Iowa from December 2005 to July 2013.

1984: Sharon Doran Academy, 1985: Moore Business Forms,1986: Bo-James Restaurant, 1987: City of Iowa City Transit, Fire and Police departments, 1988: The Soap Opera, 1989: Quality Care Lawn Care, 1990: Southgate Development Company, 1991: Yen Ching Restaurant, 1992: University of Iowa Community Credit Union, 1993: Iowa State Bank and Trust Company, 1994: Heartland Candles, 1995: World Marketplace, 1996: Goodwill Industries/Southeast Iowa, 1997: Prairie Lights Bookstore, 1998: River City Dental Care, 1999: Hills Bank and Trust Company, 2000: A Great Balancing Act, 2001: River Products Company, 2002: Moore Construction Company, 2003: Thai Flavors, 2004: Iowa City Area Association of Realtors, 2005: Lensing Funeral and Cremation Services, 2006: Emma Goldman Clinic, 2007: Circle of Courage School, 2008: Iowa City Area Association of Realtors, Fair Housing Ambassadors and Iowa City Housing Authority, 2010: ToGather Together, 2012: University of Iowa Center for Human Rights, 2013: Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, 2014: Council for International Visitors to Iowa Cities, 2015: Johnson County Affordable Homes Coalition, 2016: Neumann Monson Architects, 2017: Gregory L. Hearns, Iowa City Federation of Labor, 2018: University of Iowa Labor Center, 2019: Inside Out Reentry, 2020: Iowa Policy Project, 2021: Kirkwood Community College Iowa City Student Services, 2022: Iowa City Bike Library

Rick Graf

Rick Graf, for whom the award is named, was an activist within the Iowa City community as well as nationally. He was serving his first term on the City of Iowa City Human Rights Commission when his life was cut short by complications from AIDS in July 1995. Rick had served on the Ryan White Care Consortia and the Johnson County AIDS Coalition Board. He was a co-founder of the University of Iowa Gay Liberation Front, the first university-affiliated gay group in the country. He also co-founded ICARE (Iowa Center for AIDS Resources Education) and RFD, a magazine for rural gay men everywhere. The Rick Graf award recognizes the long-term commitment of an individual, business, or individual with a service organization, to a specific cause or for the benefit of a specific group of persons.

1996: Theresa Kopatich, 1997: Brian Thomas, 1998: James L. Harris, 1999: Phyllis Harper-Bardach, 2000: Susan Buckley, 2001: Minnette Doderer, 2002: Mary Palmberg, 2003: John-Paul Chaisson-Cardenas, 2004: Philip Mears, 2005: Valerie Kemp, 2006: Christine Mullen, 2007: Robin Butler and Janelle Rettig, 2008: Chris Klug, 2009: BarbouRoske Family, 2010: Sergeant Denise Brotherton, 2011: Amy Correia, 2012: Joan Vanden Berg, 2013: Working Group Theater, 2014: Diane Finnerty, 2015: Stephanie Van Housen, 2016: Pilot Club of Iowa City, 2017: Stella & Bram Elias, 2018: Dr. Jack Stapleton, 2019: Elizabeth Bernal, 2020: Eric Harris, 2021: Tracy Jon Sargeant, 2022: Na Li

Kenneth Cmiel

Kenneth Cmiel, for whom the award is named, was an educator committed to human rights both locally and globally. Ken was a Professor of History and American Studies at the University of Iowa. He served as Chair of the Department of History from 2000-2003. In 2004 he was appointed Director of the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights. Ken was dedicated to encouraging students to pursue employment and work in the field of human rights around the globe. He initiated the Human Rights Internship Program within the Center for Human Rights and spent countless hours with students, discussing the possibilities of meaningful work to promote a more just and caring world community. The Kenneth Cmiel award is designed to recognize a college student and/or graduate student who has followed up on their interest in and knowledge of human rights by actively working in the field in the dedicated and determined way that Ken Cmiel advocated during his lifetime.

2006: Julia LaBua, 2007: Kate Karacay, 2008: Rita Bettis, 2009: Elizabeth Petersen, 2010: Kerry Lao, 2011: Jo Butterfield, 2012: Robin E. Armstrong, 2013: Misty Rebik, 2015: Eli S. Shepherd, 2017: Kimberly Shiu, 2018: Sarah Ziegenhorn, 2019: Matthew Farrey, 2021: Brian Finley, 2022: Jocelyn M. Williams

Heather Shank Lifetime Achievement Award

A person can only be nominated for this award by the Commission.

2001: Dr. Philip Hubbard, 2002: Willard "Sandy" Boyd, 2013: A. Mori Costantino  and Jean Lloyd-Jones, 2015: Heather L. Shank (posthumously), 2020: Robert E. Dvorsky, 2022: Senator Joe Bolkcom