Passion for heritage, helping

Fannie Lou Hamer Award honors woman for work with health in Africa

September 19, 2004|By Liz Boch | Liz Boch,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Dressed in a purple-and-neon-green tie-dyed dress, Lori Ann Bradford sits on a bench across from Lake Waterford.

Her thick black hair is pulled up in a white scarf detailed with red and purple flowers, showcasing big, silver hoop earrings that sway when she looks down at her Yorkshire terrier, Sasa Badu. Her dog wags her tail at Bradford's feet, which are slipped into Kenyan thong sandals decorated with shells.

The lake brings Bradford peace. Families walk together, young boys fish with their fathers and children toss bread to eager ducks.

As a child, Bradford's father brought her here on weekends to feed the ducks. It was a quiet time where she learned to appreciate the world and help where she could.

This lesson, coupled with her strong ties to her African-American heritage, led her to Kenya in the summer of 2002, where she worked with patients suffering from malaria, typhoid fever and HIV/AIDS. And next month, her dedication to helping others will be recognized by Anne Arundel County.

She is one of six women who will receive the Fannie Lou Hamer Award from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner Committee. Hamer is perhaps best remembered for her speech at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, where she described the beatings she received while working for voting rights for African-Americans.

Other recipients include Dr. Charlestine R. Fairley, Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Michele D. Jaklitsch, County Solicitor Linda Schuett, County Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale and the Rev. Mamie A. Williams.

For Bradford, 35, heading to Africa was a lifetime goal. She first traveled to Botswana in 1988. In 2002, she traveled to a rural Kenyan hospital southwest of Nairobi. Without outside help, the hospital would have had no face masks for surgery and only a limited supply of gloves. They often reused gloves after drying them in the sun, she said.

Bradford works as an HIV/AIDS educator for the Howard County Health Department, helping many African-American women, the fastest-growing population of new HIV/AIDS cases, she said.

Her mother, Dorothy Bradford, said her youngest daughter has always been determined and in touch with her heritage.

"She is one of the biggest Afro-centric women I know," she said. "I am proud of the fact that nothing deters her from her ideals."

For Lori Ann Bradford, the award is secondary to the impact she can make on the world, her mother said.

"It's not about her. It's about the positive outcome she's hoping for," Dorothy Bradford said. "She wants to be an example of what others can accomplish."

Sylvia Tilghman, a committee member and the presenter of Bradford's award, said Bradford has long been active in the African-American community. While getting her master's degree in public health at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., Bradford helped establish a state monument to recognize the enslaved Africans who died during the Middle Passage. She also works as the secretary of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner Committee, Tilghman said.

"She's the kind of person that deserves it," Tilghman said. "She's worked hard with the committee and been a real volunteer."

The ceremony will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Banneker-Douglas Museum in Annapolis. Tickets cost $25, and the proceeds benefit the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner in January.

Bradford said she feels honored to receive the award, especially because it is named after one of her Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters, but she is more focused on returning to Africa to work on another public health project.

"I have a love. I have a love and appreciation for Africa," she said, tending to Sasa Badu, whose name means "peace now." "Africa is my bliss."

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