Strong Men & Women in Virginia History celebrates 30 years of distinguished Virginians

For the last 30 years, we’ve honored extraordinary Virginians who have made important contributions to the state, the nation or their professions. The contributions of African Americans have often been ignored in recorded history, and we are honored to play a role in ensuring that an inclusive story of history is told. And for nearly a decade the Library of Virginia has helped us to celebrate the triumphs of these outstanding Virginians.

The Strong Men & Women event recognizes individuals who refused to be defined by their circumstances. Honorees are representative of the entire Commonwealth and have campaigned through education and advocacy for better lives for themselves and all Americans.

Strong Men and Women

This year’s honorees include:

  • Marcus D. Williams – an attorney, educator, and musician who served more than 30 years as a circuit court judge in Fairfax County
  • Penny J. Franklin – a community activist for more than 30 years in Montgomery County
  • Joycelyn S. Harrison – an award-winning chemical engineer and inventor from Hampton
  • Kaci M. Easley – the first African American to serve as director of Virginia’s Executive Mansion
  • Torrey Smith – Super Bowl champion and philanthropist

In addition to honoring the contributions of these extraordinary individuals, the event also recognizes four student essay contest winners.

This year’s prompt was as follows:

Enslaved Africans were brought to the Virginia colony in 1619. During 400 years of slavery, emancipation, and the fight for civil rights, African Americans have persevered and made an impact in their communities, states, and nation. What lessons can you learn from that perseverance? Why is it important to study their struggles and triumphs, and how can you ensure that their contributions to American history and culture are not forgotten?

Strong Men and Women

The four contest winners for 2020 include:

  • Ja’Mir Starks – Great Bridge High School
  • Ava Seagle – Gate City High School
  • Ilaria Cabell – Forest Park High School
  • Rebekah Bautista – Massaponax High School/Commonwealth Governor’s School

We look forward to the next 30 years of celebrating Strong Men & Women in Virginia History!