Seal of Dane County County of Dane
County Executive's Office

Madison and Dane County Announce Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards

January 15, 2009
Rachel Strauch-Nelson, (608) 266-4611 Joshua Wescott, (608) 267-8823
County Executive

Madison – City of Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk today announced the recipients of their respective annual awards honoring community members who reflect the values of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The City and County will present the awards at the 24th Annual City-County Martin Luther King, Jr. Observance on Monday, January 19, at the Overture Center Capital Theater, 201 State Street, Madison.  The program begins at 6:00 p.m.

The City of Madison named two recipients of its 2009 Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award: Virgil Ward and Milele Chikasa Anana. Dane County has selected Oscar Mireles to receive its 2009 Dane County Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recognition Award. Additional information about each of the recipients is below.

City of Madison award recipients

The city’s annual award is given to individuals who have made outstanding and significant contributions in the spirit of brotherhood, sisterhood and harmony toward making Madison an ideal place in which to live.

“Madison’s tradition of social justice and activism is well-represented by both of this year’s winners,” said Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. “Both Milele Chikasa Anana and Virgil Ward have shown a deep commitment to making our community a better place for all Madisonians. We are a better place because of their contributions to the community.”

In the category of “Adult Leader”, this year’s recipient is Milele Chikasa Anana. An advocate for social change in Madison for over 25 years, Milele is the publisher of UMOJA Magazine. UMOJA is the longest running Black magazine in Wisconsin, dedicated to covering positive news in the Black Community.

In addition to her work at UMOJA, Milele has been an incredible voice for human and civil rights through her involvement in local community, faith-based and political organizations. She has been particularly involved with young people in the community and works to empower others to challenge injustice and social barriers through her mentoring and support.

Among her expansive body of work, Milele was the first Afirmative Action Director for the City of Madison. In that capacity, she worked to open doors for women and people of color for employment opportunities and helped to remove historical barriers to equal rights. During her tenure, Milele founded the Minority Affairs Committee, which is still active thirty years later. Milele was also the one of four acting directors of the Equal Opportunities Commission. She was also the first African American to serve on a Wisconsin School Board.

In the category of “Youth Leader”, this year’s recipient is Virgil Ward. A sophomore at La Follette High School, Virgil has already demonstrated an impressive commitment to improving his surroundings. Virgil is a familiar face at La Follette, involved with academics, social clubs, leadership conferences and extracurriculars.

Virgil has a wonderful rapport with staff, his teachers, and his peers. Virgil is described as being respectful, sincere, outgoing and always willing to help with any task that is asked of him.

Virgil is involved on many levels at La Follette. As a member of the acting troupe, “Fade to Black,” Virgil travels to area schools to teach about difficult issues facing teens in today’s society.

He’s also actively involved with the Student Athletic Advisory, raises money for local food drives, and assisted in organizing a five-kilometer run to raise money for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. Virgil was also chosen as a member the African American Achievement Team at La Follette because of his leadership and for being an exceptional role model for other students.

In spite of the challenges Virgil has faced, peers and staff are continually impressed with his leadership ability, ambition, motivation and willingness to help those around him.

Dane County award recipient

“I am delighted to announce that the recipient of the 2009 Dane County Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award is Oscar Mireles,”  County Executive Kathleen Falk said.  “As a parent leader, coach, writer, educator, and community activist, Oscar has spent his life promoting peace, understanding, and cooperation.  His decades of tireless work for positive change have helped countless young people,” Falk added. 

Mireles has been involved in community based educational programs for the past 31 years.  He has been the Director of Omega School on West Badger Road for the past 14 years where he’s assisted over 2,000 young adults from diverse communities to earn GED/HSED credentials.  Mireles led a fundraising drive in 2006 to raise $350,000 to purchase the first building for Omega School. The adult school facility now offers free on-site childcare, provides free bus and cab transportation, twice weekly meals, financial support for GED test fees.

On the local level, Oscar Mireles was the first Latino parent to become PTO President of Gompers Elementary in Madison, where he served for two years. He has been serving on the Grant Review Committee for the Funds for Madison Schools since its inception almost seven years ago. He was recently elected President of the Board of Centro Hispano of Dane County, where he has been a Board member the past two years.

Mireles has been Board President of Africasong Inc. for the past five years, which produces the State of Wisconsin Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, the nations’ oldest state-wide recognition honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He is a published writer and poet and was featured at the 2004 and 2007 Wisconsin Book Festivals.

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