They are four women who have gone out into the world and made it better with their scholarship, activism and commitment to excellence.
California State University, Northridge will honor actor, producer and political activist Amy Brenneman; writer, attorney and human rights activist Mehrangiz Kar; muralist Kristy Sandoval and food justice activist Neelam Sharma with a Phenomenal Woman Award, which honors women from various disciplines who have made an impact and/or significant contribution to the community, during a special celebration at the university later this month.
“Every year, the gender and women’s studies department engages in a careful and thoughtful process of selecting four or five women who have fought for gender justice in our state of California and the world, and deserve our recognition and gratitude as women,” said Breny Mendoza, chair of CSUN’s Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. “This year’s Phenomenal Woman Awards will go to four extraordinary women who have worked tenaciously all their lives for women’s rights in very different ways.
“From Amy Brenneman, who changed the media landscape by putting women in the center of all the various films she’s worked in and her political activism around reproductive rights, Mehrangiz Kar, an attorney and activist who put her own life on the line to fight for what she thought was right for women in her native Iran and who has continued her struggle in the U.S., Kristy Sandoval, a Chicana muralist who beautifully captures minority women’s endurance in her paintings on the walls of several cities around the nation and the world to Neelam Sharma, executive director of the non-profit Community Service Unlimited who grew up in London and moved to Los Angeles to dedicate her life to provide food justice for out city’s communities,” Mendoza continued. “We are honored that they have accepted our recognition as a department and a university who share their mission.”
The Phenomenal Woman Awards celebration will take place on Oct. 22 from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Grand Lobby of the Valley Performing Arts Center, located on the south side of the CSUN campus at 18111 Nordhoff St. in Northridge. The evening’s mistress of ceremonies will be award-winning journalist Beverly White, of NBC4 Los Angeles.
An accomplished journalist for more than 30 years, White has covered a variety of stories for NBC4, from the Boston Marathon bombings and the Texas fertilizer plant explosion to the Seal Beach hair salon shooting. In 2012, White received the Distinguished Journalist Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for her good news judgment, strong sense of ethics and passion for getting the story right. She also was named one of THE 50 Fabulous Women of 2013 by THE Magazine. In 2008, she was honored with the Leadership Award from the California Legislative Black Caucus.
Brenneman divides her time between acting, producing and political activism. She was raised in Connecticut and earned a bachelor’s degree in comparative religion at Harvard University. She moved to Los Angeles in the early 1980s to star in the television show “NYPD Blue.” She created, executive produced and starred in “Judging Amy,” which was based on the work of her mother, the Honorable Justice Frederica Brenneman. Other television credits include “Private Practice” and “The Leftovers,” which she currently stars in. Her film credits include “Fear,” “Heat,” “Friends and Neighbors,” “The Jane Austin Book Club” and “Words and Pictures” opposite Clive Owen. She produced and directed the documentary “The Way the World Should Be,” about the trailblazing work of the CHIME Institute, a national model for inclusive education housed at CSUN. Most recently, she and her husband, Brad Silberling, executive produced “Heartbeat” for ABC.
Brenneman has been honored for her activist work by Women in Film, The Brady Center, the League of Women Voters, the California State Assembly and the National Children’s Alliance, among others. She recently received the Eleanor Roosevelt Award from The Feminist Majority Foundation for her ongoing commitment to reproductive rights. She has traveled to Peru as an ambassador for CARE and has been the keynote speaker for NARAL, Cal-Tash, the Council for Exceptional Children and on the steps of the Supreme Court during oral arguments.
Kar is an internationally recognized writer, attorney and activist specializing in women’s rights and family law. She is currently a visiting scholar in CSUN’s Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. Prior to her time at CSUN, she worked as a senior expert at Family Health International, a Washington D.C.-based international development organization that focuses on Islamic law and gender in the Middle East. Kar practiced law in the Islamic Republic of Iran for 22 years before fleeing political persecution. She has published numerous books and articles on issues related to law, general equality and democracy in Iran and abroad. She was formerly a visiting scholar at Harvard University, Brown University, University of Cape Town, Wellesley College and Brookings Institution. Kar has received several international awards for her human rights work, including the Democracy Award from the National Endowment for Democracy, Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize and the Human Rights First Award.
Sandoval was raised in Pacoima and has family in Baja California, Mexico. She grew up straddling two cultures. She attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and returned to Los Angeles to advocate for arts education, a path that led her to public art murals. While proposing a mural design program to a local nonprofit organization, she became familiar with the mural process and history in Los Angeles. She discovered loop holes to the city’s ban on public art murals and started creating work with student participants and members of the community.
Sandoval has painted murals in Los Angeles, New Orleans and Miami, and inspired the formation of an all-woman mural crew in Pacoima known as the H.O.O.D sisters. Last year, she became the first woman invited to participate in the Mural Istanbul Festival. While in Turkey, the American Consulate asked her to work with Syrian refugee children. Her personal work focuses on Womyn empowerment, social and environmental justice and tackles questions of identity. Sandoval is currently an artist for Amnesty International’s new sector, Art for Amnesty, continuing mural design workshops, raising a 4-year-old daughter, and exploring new forms of public art that include 2D installations to promote sustainability through functional public art.
Sharma is the executive director of Community Services Unlimited (CSU), a nonprofit headquartered in South Los Angeles with a mission to foster the creation of communities actively working to address the inequalities and systemic barriers that make sustainable communities and self-reliant lifestyles unattainable. Sharma’s food justice work with CSU was inspired by her specific need to feed her family healthy food when she moved to South Los Angeles, and driven by her broader understanding of the basic human right to high-quality, culturally appropriate food as a critical element of social justice. She first became a community activist as a pre-teen in response to an attempt by fascists to organize in Southall, London, England, where she grew up.