Leading and innovating through love was a key takeaway at Wednesday’s Salute to Women Awards.
The annual breakfast and awards ceremony, now in its third year, drew a socially distanced group of approximately 65 at the Diamond Jo Casino for the Telegraph Herald, Her magazine and BizTimes.biz event.
The event honors women from throughout the tri-states who have been nominated by community members in recognition of their leadership and impact on the community.
This year, six women were awarded.
“I admit, I didn’t know very much about these awards when I first learned that I had been nominated,” said Nicole Salazar, recognized as this year’s Woman to Watch for her work as an officer with the Dubuque Police Department and volunteer efforts throughout the community. “Once I found out more about them, I was just extremely honored. Every single woman here is working to make a difference. It takes baby steps, but if we work together, we can make great things happen.”
Kelly Larson, director of human rights for the City of Dubuque honored as this year’s Woman Who Makes A Difference, shared the influence her parents had on her ambition to be a driving force toward change during the awards ceremony.
“When I think of this idea of making a difference out in the world, no people had a greater influence on me than my parents did,” Larson said. “My father is the kindest man I know, with the possible exception of my husband. It was from him that I learned my mediation skills. When I would come home angry because of a social injustice, he taught me that there were always two sides to every story.
“My mom wanted to be a nurse, but her mother thought she should get married and have babies instead. So she did, and she never let me or my sister forget her dream. When she decided to get involved with our church, she was told she should join the women who did the cooking. She said no. She joined the church council instead.”
Another award recipient, Danielle Urbain, was recognized as this year’s Woman of Innovation for her leadership at John Deere Dubuque Works and John Deere Davenport Works.
She credits her team at John Deere, her mentors and her daughter as the inspiration behind her motivation to grow.
“You never achieve anything alone; it takes many hands and many minds,” Urbain said. “I was privileged to have mentors who believed in me more than I believed in myself. But my biggest inspiration is my daughter, who is never afraid to put herself out there. Because of her, I went after what I wanted. My advice is to embrace every opportunity to develop your leadership skills, learn new ideas, and don’t tell yourself you can’t. If you want it, go do it.”
The event’s pinnacle honor, Woman of the Year, went to three women: Dereka Williams, Gwendolyn Fountain and Monique McCauley, known as the Queens for Peace. Earlier this year, the trio founded the Switching Places Foundation which aims to continue the dialogue sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Community leaders have credited the women as caretakers of the community, organizing a series of marches throughout Dubuque, following the death of George Floyd. Each event has remained peaceful and drawn a diverse group of supporters.
“When I think of Dereka, Gwendolyn and Monique and what makes them stand out, I am reminded of the Margaret Mead quote, and I’ll paraphrase: ‘Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world because it’s the only thing that ever has,’” said City Manager Mike Van Milligen. “I think they’re going to change the world. I know they’re going to change Dubuque. And I think we’re all going to be better for it.”
The three women who came to Dubuque between the mid 1990s and early 2000s expressed disbelief in how far Dubuque has brought them and gratitude for being recognized in a community that has known racial injustices.
“I never thought back in 1995 that I would be standing here today,” Williams said. “I never liked being treated differently, and I never knew how to stand up for what was right. But now I know that telling my story is enough to get people to understand what we go through and to try and change and build something better to make a difference.”
Fountain and McCauley echoed Williams’ words.
“It’s been 20 years that we’ve been in this,” McCauley said. “I never thought 10 or 20 years ago that I’d see Dubuque stand up the way that it has. It’s amazing. This is an honor.”