Victoria Silva, Vladimir Morales, and Dee Shabazz Honored At Amherst Media Gala


A sold-out crowd at the UMass Marriott Center, celebrating Amherst Media's first annual gala. Photo: Vira Cage

Amherst Media, the longest continuous running public access station in the country, came up with a smart plan to turn its 48th annual meeting into one of the largest social events of the year by combining the annual meeting with a community gala party, a social justice award presentation, and a formal announcement to name its future building on Main Street. What took place the evening of Saturday, November 18 at the Marriott Center on the 11th floor of the UMass Campus Center, was a glorious coming together of residents, happy to celebrate some of the town’s outstanding social justice activists now that the grueling season for local elections is over. 

The sold out event included outstanding food (UMass caterers), and an outstanding evening of entertainment including the poetry of Martin Espada, a video history of Amherst Media, music by singer-songwriter Kaylani Rayne, whose grandparents Victoria Silva and the late Vladimir Morales are this year’s recipients of the Jean Haggerty Award for Community Engagement and Social Justice, and dance music by Jose Gonzales and Banda Criolla Clasico. This was an event that drew us out of our pandemic isolation to celebrate some good work being done in our midst and reminded us, as Amherst Media President Vira Cage put it, that “Community is for all of us.”

Kicking the evening off, world-renowned poet Martin Espada, a former neighbor of Silva and Morales, read his recently composed praise poem, “The Puerto Rican With A Bolshevik Name.” Speakers Alicia Lopez, Gilberto Amador, and Nelson Acosta followed. Amador thanked Silva and spoke about how he had been helped by her and Morales when he was a young person in Upward Bound. “They taught me to be a strong young man, and now I’m a strong older man, who continues to give that support to young men” by leading education and other non-profits and teaching financial literacy and entrepreneurship to more than 10,000 students.” Acosta said that he grew up in Holyoke and arrived at UMass “thanks to my mother and Victoria,” and later praised Morales for raising the Puerto Rican flag on the North Common for more than two decades, despite pushback. “I was influenced by great leaders like Martin Luther King, Vladimir, and Victoria. Their legacy is not made in dollar bills.” 

Morales, it was noted, was Amherst’s first Latino to be elected to town government and became an outspoken activist on the Amherst Pelham School Committee and beyond. He also led the as-yet-unsuccessful call for non-citizen residents to participate in Amherst elections and always tried to help the town become more diverse as well as less divided.

Others praised Silva for being an extraordinary friend, mentor, and advocate to the community, both personally and through her work at Upward Bound, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Amherst school district, where she raised low-income parents’ participation in at least one program “From Zero to 250.” In her acceptance speech, she reminded the audience that “We need to do better now!”

“Together, this couple went above and beyond to uplift our community here in Amherst,” said Cage, “making ripple effects far and wide with the lives they touched, the love they poured into this community, and their vocal, visible, and deeply impactful call for dignity and respect for everyone.”

The Jean Haggerty award is named “for a tireless organizer who is passionate about advocacy, free speech, social justice, and service, and whose concern for those who have been denied an opportunity to be heard left an indelible mark on Amherst’s community television organization,” according to a press release for the gala. In the last five years, it was awarded to the Amherst League of Women Voters, Pat Ononibaku, Elsie Fetterman, Carlie and Gary Tartakov, and members of the town’s  Community Safety Working Group, which created the foundation for CRESS and other programs, Tashina Bowman, Darius Cage, Debora Ferreira, Pat Ononibaku, Brianna Owen (co-chair), Russ Vernon-Jones, and Ellisha Walker (co-chair).

Near the end of the evening, Cage and Amherst Media’s Executive Director, Jim Lescault, formally announced that the Amherst Media headquarters that will be built on their land on the corner of Main and Gray streets will be named the Dr. Demetria Rougeaux Shabazz Media Arts Center in honor of Dr. Dee Shabazz, a former board president and social justice activist who died on September 11. Lescault stated, “Dr. Shabazz was steadfast in her support for Free Speech and providing the venue for diverse community voices, dedicating herself to promoting and enhancing Amherst Media’s presence in the Amherst area.  She saw the need to own our facility for sustainability. It is now up to us to pull through the last hurdle of building the new facility.”

Cage added: “Responding to our youth’s growing demand, consumption and the increasing popularity and omnipresence of digital media in our lives, and to remain relevant and dynamic…we will need a state of the art media facility that can keep up with fast speed technological advances and progress. Our programs must evolve to meet and harness the creativity and innovation of our youth as we develop their leadership, confidence and critical thinking skills as media makers. Amherst Media is moving in that direction and we will do all we can to galvanize the support of the community to make this happen.”

The media center will be outfitted with television and podcasting studios, and will continue to serve as a robust media training site for young people and other community members, and to broadcast unedited local government meetings to keep the public informed and engaged.

Cage called to action every individual in the room to play a part in raising the funds necessary for the new building. She recognized and thanked former, present and recently elected and re-elected officials for their presence and support including Darcy DuMont, Elisha Walker, Heather Lord, Michelle Miller, Jennifer Taub, Bridgette Haynes, Jennifer Shiao, Kathleen Anderson as well as Jamie Daniels who ran for an at-large seat on the Town Council.

The evening was made possible in part by the generosity and hospitality of Ken Toong of UMass Amherst Auxiliary Enterprises, UMass Catering and Conference Services, with additional support from Teixeira, CPA, PC, Collaborative for Educational Services, Encharter Insurance, The Amherst Indy, League of Women Voters of Amherst, Amherst Downtown Business Improvement District, South Congregational Church in Amherst, UMass Community and Strategic Initiatives, International Training and Development, Elsie Fetterman, Michele Miller, Adrienne and Anthony Terrizi, Mari Castenda & Joseph Krupcynski and Darcy DuMont.

For more information about Amherst Media, see Amherst Media

Gala Photo Gallery

Mary Custard and Victoria Silva. Silva and her late husband Vladimir Morales were awarded this year’s Jean Haggerty Award for Community Engagement and Social Justice. Photo: Marita Banda
Singer/songwriter Kalyani Rayne performed two songs she wrote for her grandparents Victoria Silva and Vladimir Morales. Photo: Kitty Axelson-Berry
Attendees at Amherst Media’s first annual gala danced the night away to the music of Jose Gonzales and members of Banda Criolla. Photo: Amherst Media
Left to right: Magdalena Gomez, Jamie Daniels, Margaret Sawyer and Isolda Ortega Bustamante. Photo: Vira Cage
Left to right: Mary Custard, Pat Ononibaku, Vira Douangmany Cage and Sovann-Malis Loeung.
View from the Marriott Center at the Amherst Media 2023 gala. Photo: Kitty Axelson-Berry
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