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MLK Committee Announces Stone of Hope Award Honorees

EL CENTRO — Nine current and former Imperial Valley residents will be recognized for their contributions to the community during the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Committee’s annual Stone of Hope Award ceremony in January.

The award honors individuals who promote social justice and are making a difference in the community through actions that embody the principles and philosophies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Stone of Hope award derives its name from an excerpt of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech: “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”  

The awards ceremony represents the Valley’s pre-eminent multicultural event and is scheduled for noon Jan. 29 at the event center on the second floor or La Resaca Restaurant in El Centro. The venue is ADA-accessible.

Tickets to attend are $50 and can be obtained by contacting Paul Valdivia at 760-562-2530 or the Imperial Valley Social Justice Committee at 442-231-8550. Sponsorships are available, as well.

This year’s honorees include the following individuals:

  • Albert Barzan An El Centro resident, Barzan was inspired to give back to the community by his grandfather. A retired volunteer tennis instructor, Barzan has done just that by teaching hundreds how to play the game, life lessons, to value responsibility and have fun.
  • Ramon Castro Castro is a Brawley resident and U.S. Marine Corps and Iraq War veteran who is very active in his community and has been a longtime advocate of veterans and veterans’ issues.
  • Daniela and Luis Flores Siblings Daniela and Luis are Calexico residents and co-founders of the grassroots organization Imperial Valley Equity & Justice Coalition, which advocates for vulnerable groups in the Valley.
  • Diahna Garcia-Ruiz Garcia-Ruiz is co-founder and president of the nonprofit Proyecto Heber, which was established to improve the image, community involvement, and activities for the township of Heber. A resident of El Centro, Garcia-Ruiz is also a Calexico Brown Bag Coalition board member.
  • Lawson Hardrick III Hardrick is former Calexico resident who is currently enrolled as a graduate student in San Diego State University’s Postsecondary Educational Leadership program, where he champions equity and empowerment for historically underserved students.
  • Stella Jimenez Jimenez is a Calexico resident who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes since her relocation to the Valley several years ago to promote community activities. Jimenez also serves on the boards of WomanHaven, A Center for Family Solutions and MANA de Imperial Valley.
  • Annaka Penner-Smith Penner-Smith is an El Centro resident, aspiring artist, poet and spoken word artist. Penner-Smith recently published “For You,” a collection of poetry, as well as “Do Not Ask Me What I Am.” Both publications are geared toward young adult audiences.
  • Ivan Soto Soto is a former El Centro resident and current University of California, Merced doctoral candidate whose research examines how underrepresented groups have shaped local history. A resident of Imperial Beach, Soto is also a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow who will promote higher education in the Valley.
  • Carmelia Thames Thames is an Imperial resident and retired county employee. Thames is a longtime member of the Solid Rock Christian Ministries congregation in the city of Imperial, where she enjoys volunteering and helping the community.
  • Raul Ureña Ureña is a resident of Calexico who began using his voice at a young age to advocate for marginalized groups in the Valley, such as homeless individuals, farmworkers and the LGBTQ community. Ureña is also a founding member of the Imperial Valley Equity & Justice Coalition.
  • Marva Walker II Walker is a Brawley resident, retired U.S. Force veteran and entrepreneur. Her recent return to the Valley had prompted her to launch a mobile gaming business that caters to the youth and represents just one local enterprise that Walker intends to establish that provides positive activities for local youths.
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