By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer,

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser kicked off the city’s celebration of Women’s History Month by honoring an elite group of distinguished ladies who’ve made a significant impact on the community.

The Women of Excellence Awards celebrated the many significant contributions of women in the D.C. area and highlighted the specific contributions of this year’s honorees at Eastern Market.  After a year of unprecedented success for women in politics in some of the country’s major metro cities, the first woman to serve a second term mayor in the history of the nation’s capital, recognized gains in the world of politics that can be seen in the number of freshmen members of the new Congress while charting a course for true gender equality in the District.

The D.C. Women of Excellence Awards were held at The North Hall at Eastern Market on March 5. The recipients of The Washington Rising Stars Award are (S3 Trio), Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner and Bria Snell- the only-all Black female team in the history of NASA’s national high school competition. (Photo by Rob Roberts)

“We still have a lot of work to do to change the trajectory for women,” Bowser said. “Together we will continue to do the work on issues that are critical to us.”

Since Bowser’s first term as mayor, 28 women have earned the Women of Excellence honor, and the event has become an annual source of pride for those who work tirelessly each year to stage the event. For the fifth consecutive year the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Policy and Initiatives (MOWPI) used the public forum opportunity to highlight their accomplishments to the greater community and to engage with the larger community of women who live in the District.

Mayor Bowser continues using her office to help prepare and develop more professional women that will be able to compete in the increasingly more competitive workforce.  During March MOWPI is not only celebrating the accomplishments of professional women in business, it hopes to cultivate more chances for them to break glass ceilings that hover lucrative job opportunities. Two salary negotiation workshops on March 7 and 21 are designed to teach them how to help position themselves for professional advancement and earn better salaries by learning how to negotiate.

Bowser acknowledged the women of the District are making 92 cents on the dollar compared to men doing the same jobs.  However, those figures are lower for African-American and Hispanic women and she hopes these are steps that will increase the pool of candidates who are ready to compete, perform and be compensated the same as their male counterparts.

This year’s honorees have impacted D.C. through their work in sports, media and community service.

Former Washington Post reporter Dorothy Butler Gilliam started her career at The Post in October 1961 as a reporter on the city desk and was the first African-American female reporter to be hired by the newspaper. Gilliam also created the Young Journalists Development Program, which was designed to bring more young people into the journalism world in 1997, earning her the Trailblazer Award.

Washington Mystic guard and Wizards assistant coach Kristi Toliver earned the first Female Groundbreaker Award. She made history becoming the first female coach in the Wizards’ 58 seasons and became the first active WNBA player to serve as an NBA assistant coach.

Keely O’Brien was named the youngest female director of D.C.’s long-running tennis tournament, the Citi Open in 2017 and was given the Under 40 Award.

Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner and Bria Snell, better known as S3 Trio, are 12th graders at Banneker High School who developed a method to purify lead-contaminated water in school drinking fountains earned the Rising Star Award.

The Leader in Maternal Health Award went to Aza Nedhari the founder and executive director of Mamatoto Village, a nonprofit organization that trains and provides perinatal community health workers for some of Washington, D.C.’s most high risk mothers.

The Social Justice Award went to Marcia Greenberger who is the founder and co-president emerita of the National Women’s Law Center.