Press Release: YWCA Madison Honors the Emerging Legacy of Women Doing the Work by Highlighting the Contributions of Six Women with the 47th Women of Distinction Leadership Award

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Press Release: YWCA Madison Honors the Emerging Legacy of Women Doing the Work by Highlighting the Contributions of Six Women with the 47th Women of Distinction Leadership Award

Categories: Blog, News, Press Release

YWCA Madison Honors the Emerging Legacy of Women Doing the Work by Highlighting the Contributions of Six Women with the Women of Distinction Leadership Award

MADISON, WisconsinWhile discussions around women’s leadership continue to become more nuanced in today’s media, we at YWCA Madison continue to see, honor, and uphold women leaders. On Thursday, May 26, 2022, YWCA Madison will present the 47th Annual Women of Distinction Leadership Awards at Garver Feed Mill in Madison, WI. We are pleased to announce that this year we will honor Lucia Nuñez, Brenda Gonzalez, Candace McDowell, Dr. Hazel Symonette, Christy Clark-Pujara, Ph.D., and Andrea Jones with The Women of Distinction Leadership Awards.

“I am so excited for this historic year in our Women of Distinction history.  This is the first time in our 47 year history of the Women of Distinction awards that we are honoring all women of color.  As a Black woman leading YWCA Madison, during this time, it feels so right and necessary.” –  Vanessa McDowell, YWCA Madison, CEO.                                         

YWCA Madison established the Women of Distinction Leadership Awards in 1974 to increase community awareness and appreciation of the diverse contributions of women in the workforce and in the community. Since its inception, Women of Distinction has honored over 240 women whose achievements  have aligned with the historic mission and values of YWCA Madison. YWCA Madison invites you to join us in Honoring the Emerging Legacy of Women Doing the Work by celebrating the achievements of this year’s honorees.

Tickets for the in person awards presentation are $50. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit

About the Honorees [Excerpt taken from honorees’ Women of Distinction nomination.]

CHRISTY CLARK-PUJARA,  Ph.D. – Professor Christy Clark-Pujara is a superstar who devotes her life to speaking out against racism, doing scholarship uncovering this country’s dismal record of abuse against non-white populations, and then sharing that knowledge in engaging ways with broader audiences. She has published about slavery, done radio shows about Black abolitionists, given guest lectures to the UW Odyssey Project, been involved in teaching within the Justified Anger Program, designed history programs to educate judges, mentored girls and young women, and so much more. She exemplifies all the aspects of the YWCA’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women both through the life she lives herself and through the work and service she does for others.

For years, Christy Clark-Pujara has contributed life-changing mentorship of young women when she attends the UW Odyssey Project. She speaks to the class not just about the content (the history of slavery) but also about her own life.

BRENDA GONZALEZ – Brenda Gonzalez’s career revolves around one theme – improving the human condition for people in our community. She does so by seeking assignments that allow her to benefit others with an emphasis on improving access to healthcare and education for women and their children.

Since coming to UW in her current role in 2019, Brenda has codified UW’s commitment to community connectivity. Brenda has intentionally and dramatically grown and improved the community access space located at The Village on Park to include co-working spaces, conference space, gathering spaces and classrooms for teaching and events, all now open and available to community members and organizations. On any given day, you will see people seeking free help in completing their taxes, Madison School District students attending “micro schools” in art history, or employees from partner organizations working in co-working spaces. Under Brenda’s leadership the UWSMP has quadrupled its footprint from 3,015 square feet to nearly 13,000.

ANDREA JONES – Andrea leads our Black Student Union, and guides its members in bringing speakers and activities to our school that promote anti-racism and celebration of our Black, Brown, and Diverse Populations. As Multicultural Student Coordinator, she guides students in peaceful interactions, restorative justice, activism, personal integrity, college exploration, civic duty, academic excellence, and more. Andrea makes herself personally available to students to work though their personal problems, overcome barriers to health and success, and achieve scholarship and recognition. Her office is an oasis and productive mecca of student energy as they feel comfortable coming and going to gather, do their homework, work on projects, learn about opportunities, or just enjoy support and a safe space.

Andrea owns and manages a daycare in the community for 13 years, now, that supports many families with a safe and high level of care. She plays a leadership role and is supportive to workers, children, and parents there. At Memorial High School, she is seen by students and staff as a force of peace, reflective listener, caring advocate, creative leader, as well as exuding kindness and fun.

CANDACE McDOWELL The phrase “unsung hero” should be named Candace McDowell! Candace has worked all her life advocating and empowering women, especially Black Women. She started her career in the early 70’s as a teacher/coordinator training adults in secretarial skills. She was able to help young and older women to be placed in entry level secretarial positions. These positions had a history of only hiring White women. So, she started her career empowering women to start in jobs that were not open to them as Black Women.

Candace is a role model in her church, sorority employment, and Madison/ Dane County Community. As the Founder/Director, Emerita of the Multicultural Student Center at the University of WI-Madison. She has served as a role model and mentor for thousands of UW Black and other students of color. They come back every year during homecoming to still seek out her tutelage. She calls them “my babies.” These students have gone on to outstanding careers as doctors, lawyers, teachers and engineers to name a few. She is a great role model to the women of her sorority. As one of the founders of the UW MADISON chapter she serves as a role model not only for her local chapter, but also young women statewide.

LUCIA NUÑEZJack Daniels, President of Madison College says, “A little over six years ago, I hired Lucia as the very first Equity and Inclusion Vice President within the Wisconsin Technical College system. She has demonstrated great leadership skills and how do I evidence that?  The creation of a plan, two plans to be exact, that focuses the college on inclusion and equity.  She has assessed those plans, implemented those plans, and has engaged the entire college community in furthering our goals in terms of equity and inclusion. As she’s done that, she has created many different pathways for the college to really engage itself in these discussions, leading the Diversity Council of our shared  governance process, providing expertise in the hiring process. Being a valued member of the college’s cabinet, but also her work throughout the Wisconsin Technical College system and the focus on equity, inclusion, eliminating racial biases and being an anti-racist institution. Oftentimes, especially in predominantly white institutions, there’s not a good knowledge of what are the issues that are facing and the experiences of people of color. And she has brought that to life through presentations, by guest speakers, as well as, integrating herself throughout all communities in which we serve.” [Taken from video submission.]

DR. HAZEL SYMONETTE – Dr. Hazel Symonette not only actively co-led and participated in the 1969 Black Student Strike, but continues to dedicate her life as one the most beloved critical scholars and community members in Madison, Wisconsin.

Dr. Symonette was born in Miami, FL and was raised there and in Harlem, NY. She is a proud graduate of the HBCU Central State University in Wilberforce, OH. Later on, Hazel earned her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and since then she has been an integral thought partner of a wide range of racial justice and social justice initiatives in Madison. Some of which include supporting the conception of the Racial Justice department at YWCA Madison, the Leadership Institute program, as well as First Wave, the Student Success Institute, a student-led Black Culture Center, African American Studies Department and the Excellence through Diversity Institute at UW-Madison, just to name a few.

Event Sponsors
YWCA Madison is grateful to our event sponsors to date: Boardman & Clark, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology – UW Madison, Park Bank and other  individual contributors for making this event possible. With the financial assistance of corporate sponsors, funders and supporters, YWCA Madison will continue to provide vital services to women and families in Dane County, empowering them to build a better and brighter future. Sponsorship opportunities are still available, contact Jill Pfeiffer, Development and Marketing Director, if you’re interested in supporting this inspiring event

About YWCA Madison
YWCA Madison is on a mission to eliminate racism, empower women, stand up for social justice, help families and strengthen our community. YWCA Madison is part of an international movement serving over 2 million in the United States and 25 million worldwide. For comprehensive information about this important work, go to


For Immediate Release
Contact: Jay Young
608.395.2198 |