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Four New Mexicans have been named as 2022 recipients of the New Mexico Humanitarian Awards for their commitment to humanitarian goals, welfare, social reform, philanthropy and values-based investing.
Recipients are the Rev. Charles E. Becknell Sr., Lee Blaugrund, Lenya Heitzig and Claudia Medina.
In addition, Shlomo Karni will receive the Harold B. Albert Jewish Community Service award for representing the best of Jewish family and community ideals and for his outstanding service to the Jewish community.
A steering committee made the selection from a field of community-submitted nominations.
Created in 2008 by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque, the New Mexico Humanitarian Awards program will be held Aug. 14 at the JCC.
Becknell, a native New Mexican and lifelong civil rights activist and community leader, was born and raised in Hobbs, when segregation was still common. He rose above that experience through education and had a long career as a professional educator.
He attended Duke, Columbia and the University of New Mexico, from where he received his Ph.D. in American studies and was the founding director of the Africana Studies program. He was a founding member and chairman of the Albuquerque Human Rights Board, and is currently the state president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and sits on the SCLC’s national board.
An author of five books and a poet, Becknell has long advocated for nonviolent social change and racial reconciliation.
As head of the American Home furniture and accessories stores, Blaugrund donated to a wide range of nonprofit community and religious organizations. His contributions have promoted education, sports, arts and social services. Among the institutions that have benefitted are United Way, Albuquerque Community Foundation, Adelante, the Storehouse, Lovelace Respiratory Research, National Institute of Flamenco and the New Mexico Philharmonic.
Blaugrund also assisted in projects to resettle Russian Jews and Tibetans who were fleeing persecution in search of better lives for themselves and their families.
Heitzig uses tangible acts of love as a way to reach out to people affected by severe trauma.
In 2014 she launched Reload Love, which touches the lives of children affected by terrorism. The organization provides relief supplies, children’s programs, and safe spaces such as playgrounds for children caught in the crossfire of terrorism throughout the world. Among Reload Love projects has been melting spent bullet casings and turning them into brass jewelry.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Heitzig launched Mercy B.A.N.D.s (Bearing Another’s Name Daily), silver bracelets inscribed with the names of individual casualties of terror. Over 60,000 people, including 2,000 family members directly affected by 9/11, have worn these bands.
Heitzig is the wife of Skip Heitzig, senior pastor of the 14,000-member Calvary Church.
Since arriving from her native Colombia 30 years ago, Medina has been involved in efforts to enhance immigrant rights and gender equality.
In 2000, she co-founded Enlace Comunitario, to aid immigrant woman and children traumatized by domestic violence. She served as the organization’s executive director for nearly two decades.
She is also one of the founders of the nonprofit organizations, El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos (The Center for Equality and Rights), Mujeres en Accion (Women in Action) and Plaza de Encuentro, which were designed to increase the economic, political and social impact of Latino immigrant families in New Mexico.
Medina is currently the CEO of consulting firm, Transformar, which works to enable nonprofit organizations and their leaders to develop competencies and skills that can make them more effective and sustainable, as well as enhance equity in disenfranchised communities.
Medina has a law degree as well as M.A. degrees in family studies and Latin American studies.
A pillar of the Albuquerque Jewish community for more than 60 years, Karni is recognized as a knowledgeable service and prayer leader, Torah reader, biblical scholar and teacher. He is also a volunteer tutor and lecturer.
He is responsible for founding two enduring local Jewish institutions: In 1971, he started The Link, a monthly publication for the Jewish community; and in 1973, he helped establish Chavurat Hamidbar, a lay-led group of Jewish religious practitioners, who assemble for prayer on the Jewish Sabbath, Jewish holidays and for Jewish life cycle and learning events.
Born in 1932, in Lodz, Poland, Karni’s family immigrated to Israel in 1936. He subsequently received electrical engineering degrees from the Israel Institute of Technology, Yale University, and in 1960 he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois.
He was on the faculty of the University of New Mexico’s department of Electrical and Computer Engineering from 1961 until his retirement in 1999. Simultaneously, from 1972 until 1999, he was a professor in UNM’s department of Religious Studies.