Every year, we honor people who have dedicated their careers to helping low-income communities and communities of color build wealth and attain economic self sufficiency. These are the 2016 honorees.

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Charles Rangel
War hero, civil rights advocate, master lawmaker, Charles B. Rangel has represented the 13th Congressional District of New York, which includes his native Harlem, since 1971. A founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rangel was also the first African American Chair of the influential House Ways and Means Committee. Now serving his 22nd term, he has been cited as the most effective House lawmaker, leading all his colleagues in passing legislation. He was a prime contributor to President Obama’s health care reform law. Rangel began his career by volunteering for service in the U.S. Army, and he earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for Valor during the Korean War. He became an Assistant U.S. Attorney for New York’s Southern District and served in the N.Y. State Assembly before his election to the House. There, he has been a stalwart champion for the “least among us” and a defender of veterans. A leading advocate for equal rights and equal opportunity, Rangel has boosted working families’ incomes through the Earned Income Tax Credit and pumped billions into the economic revitalization of communities across the nation. He led the fight against apartheid with the “Rangel Amendment,” which forced large U.S. investors to abandon South Africa. He has also created trading and investment opportunities for Caribbean and African nations. His proudest achievements include founding the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Program in the State Department, in cooperation with Howard University.

Maxine Waters was elected in 2014 to her thirteenth term in the U.S. House of Representatives where she represents the 43rd Congressional District of California, which covers much of South Central Los Angeles.   An advocate for women, children, people of color and the poor, Waters is considered by many to be one of the most powerful women in American politics today. She serves as Ranking Member of the House Committee on Financial Services. A member of congressional Democratic leadership, Waters is a member of the House Democratic Steering & Policy Committee. She is also a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a member and past chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Throughout her public service, Waters has tackled difficult issues, combining strong public policy acumen with an unusual ability to do grassroots organizing. She has served on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) since 1980, and was a leader in five presidential campaigns. She was instrumental in the DNC’s creation of the National Development and Voting Rights Institute. Before being elected to Congress, Waters spent 14 years in the California State Assembly, rising to become Democratic Caucus Chair. She is a co-founder of Black Women’s Forum and is lauded by African American entrepreneurs for her work to expand their business opportunities. She was also a leader in the movement to end apartheid and establish democracy in South Africa.

Dr. Melvin L. Oliver, an expert on racial and urban inequality and Executive Dean of the University of California, Santa Barbara, College of Letters and Science, has been named Pitzer College’s sixth President. He is also the Sage Sara Miller McCune Dean of Social Sciences and a Professor of Sociology. At UCSB, Oliver has championed increased access for underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty diversity. Previously, Oliver was Vice President of the Ford Foundation’s Asset Building and Community Development Program. Earlier, as Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, Oliver won numerous awards and was named California Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  He also was founding Co-Director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Urban Poverty. A prolific author, Oliver co-wrote the award-winning Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality (1995) and serves on the boards of several foundations.

Michael E. Roberts was appointed President of First Nations Development Institute in 2005, after returning to that organization in 2003. He served previously as the Institute’s chief operating officer until 1997. In the interim, Roberts worked in private equity, providing services for angel investors, a telecommunications fund, and a venture capital firm. He also worked at Alaska Native corporations and for local IRA councils. He taught a graduate course on venture capital at the University of Missouri (Kansas City), Bloch School of Business and an undergraduate entrepreneurship course at Haskell Indian Nations University. Roberts serves on the Board of First Nations Development Institute and is Chairman of the Board of First Nations Oweesta Corporation. He is a Steering Committee member of the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders Network and on the Investment Committee for the Three Affiliated Tribes.  Roberts has held other advisory positions including as a board member for Native Americans in Philanthropy.

Meizhu Lui is an independent consultant, author, and expert on wealth disparities. She is also the former Director of the Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. Previously, Lui was Executive Director of United for a Fair Economy, a national, nonprofit that publicizes issues related to growing economic inequality and the persistent economic gap between Whites and people of color. Meizhu describes herself as a “professional troublemaker.” She was a kitchen worker and AFSCME activist, as well as the first Asian to become the elected President of a local union in Massachusetts. Lui served on the Center for American Progress Task Force, and has been recognized by numerous organizations for her work for racial and gender equality. She is the author of several articles and co-author of the book, The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide.

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