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Sheryl Aiello was a long time worker on behalf of racial justice. She was honored posthumously at the Annual Racial Justice Award event at Syracuse Stage in 2012, along with two other honorees. Below are the remarks of InterFaith Work’s Executive Director, Beth A. Broadway, given at the event. Sheryl was able to accept this award from her hospital bed two weeks before the event.
Tribute to Sheryl Aiello
2012 Life Time Achievement Award for Racial Justice
By Beth A. Broadway
We have amazing honorees this year, and I offer my congratulations to Michael Crinnin with whom I have enjoyed working for the last 20 years. He truly has personally been an amazing force and created an army against the terrible disease of AIDS. Thank you, Michael, for your witness and your work.
I also congratulate you, Abdullahi Ibrahim, for this award to you reflects our honor and respect for you as you work tirelessly to create a level playing field for ALL our children. You are a gentle soul with a mighty vision, and it is a privilege to have you in our Syracuse Community.
When Derrick Dorsey asked me if I would present this award to Sheryl Aiello, and knowing that I would be doing so posthumously, I was not sure I would make it through. So I came prepared with tissues, and I hope you are, too.
Who was Sheryl to me? We began to work together nine years ago on this project, Community Wide Dialogue to End Racism, which has moved a mountain here in our community. Sheryl worked on so many different aspects of CWD – as a Duck Race leader of our third grade efforts, as an advisory board member, as a facilitator, as a trainer of other facilitators, and as a mentor to the high school exchanges. The kids adored her, the teachers and administrators respected her, and we depended on her. If you shared a CWD life with Sheryl, please stand and witness her gifts with me.
Sheryl was an educator. She spent her career in SCSD, and gave her life to the children of this city. She chose the inner city schools to spend her career, and her life, and she deepened her understanding of the disparities wrought of race and class through this work, making this an integral part of her teaching and her relationships with colleagues. If you shared an SCSD life with Sheryl, please stand, witness her gifts with me.
Sheryl was a member of Temple Beth Shalom Chevra-Shas, and her life as a Jewish woman was central to her identify. Grounded in the notions of Tikkun Olum, or setting the world right, creating justice, made her a proud Jew, a proud justice worker, a fierce ally and working in the fields of ending oppression. If you shared a Temple life with Sheryl, please stand and witness her gifts with me.
Sheryl was a core team member of ACTS – the Alliance of Communities’ Transforming Syracuse. She was a rabble rouser, a community organizer, a team player, and through her committee work, many visible changes occurred to create equity in our community. If you shared an ACTS life with Sheryl, please stand and witness her gifts with me.
Sheryl was a family member. She loved her husband John, with whom she shared the last 20 years and even married this fall!! Lucky man, but she knew she was lucky, too. She was proud of all the ways he gave back to the community, through the driving of the van for the VA to the income tax preparation for poor people. She celebrated you, John. Her sons and her daughters in law are testament to how seriously and joyfully she took the role of mother. Not an encounter with her went by that I didn’t hear about the weddings, the careers, the struggles of her sons. She was proud, so proud of you both, and of the lovely women you chose to share your life. And she even loved her ex, Jim, and his wife, and Pam Johnson, with whom she remained close friends throughout her life. I got to meet her parents this last month, after hearing so much about them. She loved you with her whole heart. If you shared a family life with Sheryl, please stand and allow us to recognize you.
Sheryl was also my friend, and my fashion consultant. She gave me jewelry, taught me the importance of nail polish, and told me that she dressed for the children at her schools – to show them respect. We confided in each other, we cried together, we fought the same fight, and occasionally fought with each other, but always to deepen our love and our connection. If you were her friend, well, have a tissue.
I had the chance to visit with her and offer her the opportunity to accept this award, and she had a few things to say about that.
Sheryl will be a part of the light of the world forever. The Talmud tells us that we cannot do all the work of the world, but we must do what was set before us.
Sheryl did what was set before her, and we are all the better for it.
I will miss her strength, her courage, her passion, and convictions. I will love her my whole life, and I know that you will too.
Please allow me to bring up her family members, John, Andrew, and Philip, who will receive this award in her honor.