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AU PRSSA Honors Healthcare Workers and Civil Rights Leaders

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AU President Sylvia Burwell opened the AU PRSSA annual DC Icons Award Ceremony on Sept. 23 honoring Washington, D.C. natives who are noteworthy in their fields and have provided exemplary service to the local community.

This year, in keeping with the most pressing issues facing our nation, PRSSA honored organizations supporting essential healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as groups working to combat injustice, inequality, and racism in our nation. The four organizations honored at this week’s ceremony were the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Nurses Association and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The receipients were: Susan R. Bailey, the 175th president of the AMA and a distinguished immunologist from Fort Worth, Texas; Dr. Ernest Grant, the 36th president of the American Nurses Association; Derrick Johnson, the President and CEO of the NAACP; and Rebecca Lowell Edawrds, the Chief Communication Officer of the ACLU.

“I was so honored and excited to see that the leaders of these amazing organizations attended the event and shared time with the students,” said Gemma Puglisi, SOC professor and faculty advisor for PRSSA.

Following the presentation of the awards, PRSSA’s Vice President of Events and Membership Promotion, Jillian Knight, and Vice President of Fundraising, Katherine Kaplan, led a panel discussion, in which the award recipients were asked questions by attendees covering a number of topics. They shared personal stories, such as their most rewarding experiences in their respective roles, and discussed relevant healthcare and social justice issues, such as how to distribute vaccines equitably across society. In addition, they discussed communication tactics in their industries, including how communication has changed during the pandemic and how to effectively host a social justice convention in a virtual space.

Awardees also advised on how to support healthcare workers on the frontlines and get involved with the NAACP and ACLU. “I was proud of our incredible chapter, who worked so hard to make this event possible,” said Puglisi. “It was challenging for us to switch from a major event on campus, to one that was virtual. Despite the challenge, it was a beautiful event.”

PRSSA has held the DC Icons event for the past three years, not only to honor incredible DC natives, but also to connect students with powerful industry voices. Learn more about American University’s PRSSA chapter.