BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Arleana Waller, local activist, humanitarian, and Bakersfield native, has made history by earning the honor of the Valiant Award in congressman TJ Cox's first-ever Valiant Award Ceremony.
Held Tuesday, the Valiant Awards commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, ratified on Aug. 26, 1920, guaranteeing women the right to vote.
The Valiant Awards were announced in March in honor of Women's History Month.
“Women’s History Month is an opportunity to recognize the exceptional women from California’s 21st Congressional District who continue to shatter glass ceilings and uplift their communities while doing so,” said Rep. TJ Cox. “I’m proud to announce the launch of the Valiant Awards—a program that recognizes women from our Congressional District who have meaningfully contributed to the Central Valley. I encourage you to visit cox.house.gov to learn how you can nominate a valiant friend, neighbor, or colleague for this recognition.”
The Valiant Award was awarded to 11 phenomenal women, all who live and work within the 21st Congressional District.
Waller, has spent at least 10 years doing the work that it takes to uplift the black community through the MLK CommUNITY Initiative and most notably young women here in Bakersfield through her program ShePOWER Leadership Academy.
"In a perfect world, we would duplicate these chapters all over the world and girls would be able to unapologetically lead just as they are," Waller said.
Since ShePOWER's inception, upwards of 400 girls have been impacted.
She felt this was the space she needed to be in, encouraging confidence and leadership within young women's lives.
"Everything I do is an answer to closing a gap."
When asked how someone in the community can make a difference of their own, Waller had this to say, "The power of one. One person can make an impact and can start a ripple in your community."
"Really be passionate about what it is you do, don't do it for shine and glory, but do it because you really want to impact and change lives. "
While she has been a trailblazer in the world of advocacy, she knows there is still so much more work to do.
"My goal for the MLK commUNITY Initiative in a perfect world would be able to get the investments in the South East community, to rebound it in a way that that community can thrive like every other community, it's a double-digit unemployment rate, it's 80% below the poverty rate. There's no grocery store in that community, there's no transportation that runs on a regular basis in the community, no sidewalk curb and gutter structure, or affordable housing, and the list goes on. And this community has been ignored for 30-plus years, and so we have intentionally come into that community to address the disparities... So in a perfect world, we would get the funding to really help this community to thrive."
In the first year of the MLK commUNITY Initiative, 300,000 pounds of food were distributed.
"I don't think about the work we do until I'm talking about it, and I'm like wow, we're working our butts off!"
Waller expresses that she is grateful for the platform God has given her and treats it with the utmost responsibility.
You can contact Arleana Waller here.