December 22, 2021

Byron A. Johns, Blanca Kling, Diego Uriburu and Harvey Zeigler Presented with County’s Top Humanitarian Awards for 2021


Byron A. Johns, Blanca Kling, Diego Uriburu and Harvey Zeigler have been honored with Montgomery County’s top humanitarian awards for 2021. County Executive Marc Elrich presented the awards at a recent event that recognized the essential role volunteers play in the success of the County.

The ceremonies introduced the inaugural Inez Zeigler McAbee and William Harvey Zeigler Humanitarian Award, which was presented in addition to the annual Roscoe R. Nix Distinguished Community Leadership Awards. The event was emceed by WUSA9’s Allison Seymour and Marc Clarke.

“These awards are the highest honor our County government can bestow upon residents, and they highlight the tremendous work that people are doing to make this County a better and more equitable and inclusive place,” said County Executive Elrich. “Each of the awardees has had a tremendous positive impact in our community. Their leadership, compassion and perseverance in the face of injustice is inspiring to all of us. This year, I was pleased to announce the inaugural Inez Zeigler McAbee/William Harvey Zeigler Humanitarian Award, in addition to the Roscoe R. Nix awards. I want to congratulate this year’s winners for their amazing work and their dedication to advocating for social justice.”

County Council President Gabe Albornoz also participated in the event.

“Serving others is a noble calling and one that motivates you to look deep within and make a difference in the lives of others,” said Council President Albornoz. “Dedicated public servants, such as Harvey Zeigler, Byron A. Johns, Diego Uriburu and our beloved Blanca Kling, represent the best of Montgomery County. Their commitment to humanity, volunteerism and civic engagement is profoundly inspirational and serves as precedent for all of us to emulate and live a fulfilling life.”

The County Executive’s Humanitarian of the Year Award this year was renamed the Inez Zeigler McAbee and William Harvey Zeigler Humanitarian Award. As pioneers before, during and after the civil rights movement, Inez and Harvey Zeigler’s lifelong commitment to civil rights, community service and local activism provide a fitting resume and list of distinguished accomplishments. This year, the award was presented to Harvey Zeigler.

Mr. Zeigler, who is 101, remains a community and civic activist, mentor and historian. During his lifelong pursuit for equality and justice, his accomplishments have included striking down job discrimination and promoting the hiring of African Americans in government agencies, like Montgomery County Public Schools and in the County Fire and Rescue Service.

“I’m still trying—you don’t give up,” said Mr. Zeigler. “If you give up, then you haven’t accomplished too much. I feel like what my sister and I have done in Damascus, and for the County and the State, if you don’t work together and try to unite together, it's downhill. I’ve tried all these 101 years, and I feel like that’s the only way to do it is to unite and talk from the heart, try and try again. If you fail once, don’t give up—keep trying.”

The Roscoe R. Nix Distinguished Community Leadership Awards honor community leaders, change agents and role models who have made extraordinary contributions to the County over the course of their lives. This year’s awards were presented to:
  • Byron A. Johns. He is a longtime advocate for educational equity and currently serves as the Education Chair for the Montgomery County branch of the NAACP. Mr. Johns also is a co-founder, along with fellow awardee Diego Uriburu, of the Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Excellence. During the COVID-19 health crisis, while schools were virtual, he worked with the Children’s Opportunity Fund, Montgomery County Public Schools, private childcare providers and public/private funders to raise nine million dollars to serve 1,500 students with Educational Equity Hubs. The hubs are safe, supervised, technology-enabled, in-person learning facilities that support low-income students for whom virtual learning was ineffective.

    "I receive this honor with great humility and the utmost appreciation for the recognition,” said Mr. Johns. “My accomplishments are minor compared to many of the recipients, including Roscoe Nix, for whom this award is named. But I hope it inspires each of us, and all of us, to seek and pursue our better nature in service to our common humanity."
  • Blanca Kling. Ms. Kling, who passed away in January 2021, served County residents for four decades as a media spokesperson, community leader and victims’ rights advocate. She had a long track record of public service and a lifetime of dedication to County government, including in her work with the County Police Department.

    “It is with such pride for my family and I to witness the recognition of my mother’s incalculable contribution to this County, from her arrival as a Bolivian immigrant to the Latino Liaison for MCPD,” said Ms. Kling’s son, Jason Kling. “For over 34 years she tirelessly advocated for the safety and dignity of all Latinos, touched the lives of clients and colleagues, and lived with joy and a deep faith in God. Her legacy lives on when we continue her example and ask ourselves every day: ‘How can I live my life for others today like Blanca?’”
  • Diego Uriburu. He is the co-founder of Identity, an organization that creates opportunities for Latino and other historically underserved youth to help them realize their highest potential and thrive. Identity also works to empower parents to engage in their children’s education and be champions for their success. Mr. Uriburu’s commitment to social change has extended beyond his duties at Identity. In 2019, he joined forces with Byron Johns to form the Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Equity and Excellence. He is a member of Montgomery Moving Forward and the Latino Health Steering Committee and serves on the boards of WorkSource Montgomery, the Montgomery County Positive Youth Development Initiative and the Meyer Foundation.

    “It is honestly a privilege to work together with so many people and agencies to create a more just and equitable Montgomery County that nurtures all youth,” said Mr. Uriburu. “Today’s youth are the promise of Montgomery County’s future, and I am honored to accept this award on their behalf."
For more information on the Roscoe R. Nix Distinguished Community Leadership Awards and previous recipients, click here. View videos from the event on YouTube.