The 18th Annual Jim Perry Progressive Leadership Awards will be held on Thursday, May 20th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. Each Thursday leading up to the event, we’ll introduce you to one of this year’s honorees. The third in this series of posts is Vera “Mike” Michelson.

Vera Michelson, known to all of us simply as “Mike,” has been described as a “bright light” by a former colleague who worked with Mike on one of her volunteer projects. When ”Mike“ is a part of a project, time passes more quickly, the work load is lighter and the end result is always better. Mike is enthusiastic, energetic and just plain funny.

Simply reviewing Vera’s contribution for only the last few months is impressive… and exhausting. In the last year, Vera finished up her 8 years as a Board Member of the Underground Railroad History Project. As a volunteer for UGR, she focused on board development, worked on a fundraising plan for large donors, and organized several jazz-themed fundraising events. In the Summer and Fall of 2009, Vera was the full-time Volunteer Coordinator of the Corey Ellis for Mayor campaign. She is currently a member of the Gun Violence Implementation Team Advisory Committee. In addition and most recently, Vera – working with others – has taken on the task of making sure that all members of the Common Council, the press, and the Mayor all know that people in Albany want an independent Albany City Police Chief, committed to community policing.

Vera is also a member of the Capital District’s Working Families Party Steering Committee and had been heavily involved in several key elections. In 2000, Vera was one of the first volunteers in Mark Mishler’s campaign for Albany County District Attorney. In 2004, she volunteered for David Soares’s campaign and played a key role in recruiting volunteers in that landmark election. In 2005 she was the Volunteer Coordinator for Common Council Member Barbara Smith’s first electoral victory as the representative of Albany’s Fourth Ward.

Following the David Soares campaign, Vera became a member of the District Attorney’s Accountability Board. She also helped recruit and train three new classes of CAB volunteers and worked hard to expand the number of volunteers available to serve on CAB panels. Each panel meets with a defendant charged with a crime and attempts to work with the defendant (frequently young, first time offenders) and other affected parties to work out a plan of restitution and mitigation as an alternative to a judge imposed criminal sentence.

Vera is also a founding member and serves on the Steering Committee of ROOTS (Re-Entry Opportunities and Orientation Toward Success), an organization established by ex-offenders and supporters to mentor persons who were formerly incarcerated. ROOTS is working in partnership with NYS Division of Parole, the Rensselaer Re-Entry Task Force and the Schenectady Re-Entry Task Force to conduct monthly re-entry orientation and mentoring sessions. ROOTS members model a long term, proven and positive re-entry into community life.

Vera helped organize the Capital District Coalition Against Apartheid and Racism in 1981 to oppose the US tour of the South African Springbok rugby team. This team played its only public game in Albany’s Bleecker stadium. On the eve of the national demonstration in Albany to protest this game, Vera and three others were arrested in a pre-dawn raid on her apartment by the FBI and other police agencies. The arrest was based on false information that the demonstration was going to be violent from a discredited informant. The charges were eventually dismissed. From 1983 to 1994, Vera was the co-chair of CDCAAR and led the local efforts to isolate the apartheid regime by organizing local participation on numerous cultural boycotts, demonstrations and by participating divestment in New York State of public pension funds. During this period, Mike testified at several UN conferences and attended anti-apartheid conferences in South Africa, Namibia, and Mozambique. Mike also participated in the Mandela Friendship Brigade to Cuba.

In the 60s and 70s, Mike was a supporter of the Brothers, a local action-oriented civil rights group. She was also one of two organizers that helped create a Welfare Rights Organization in Rensselaer and start a Teen Center. During this period, Vera was also a founding member of the Whitney Young Health Center.

In her spare time Mike is a jazz aficionado, movie buff, and busy godmother and auntie.

Please join us on Thursday, May 20th in support of Citizen Action of New York and this year’s honorees: Norma Chapman, Judith Mazza, Vera “Mike” Michelson, and Joe Seeman.

This year’s event will be held at The State Room, 142 State Street, Albany, NY from 6:00 to 8:00 pm.

Click here to RSVP now!