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Congressman honoring Newton women with Trailblazers awards
Hank Johnson
U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson

DECATUR, Ga. – Three women with ties to Newton County will be among 17 in Georgia’s 4th Congressional District that U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Stonecrest, will honor with “Trailblazer” awards in recognition of their pioneering careers and service to the greater community Sunday, March 26.

All the honorees in recognition of Women’s History Month were some of the firsts in their fields of endeavor.

The local honorees include:

• Dr. Maria Gonzalez Davis, professor at Oxford College of Emory University. She is a noted author and has published many articles and books on American literature, Latin American literature, feminist literature and Spanish conversation and culture.

• Juanita Threadgill, who served Newton County for over 34 years in the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, serving in the administration of three different sheriffs.

• JaNice Van Ness, founder of Peachtree Prep Early Learning Centers and Peachtree Academy K-12 Christian schools in Newton and Rockdale counties. Van Ness also is a former Georgia State Senate member and former Rockdale County commissioner.

Special guests for the event include Poet Laurate Hank Stewart reciting a poem honoring the award winners and trumpeter Melvin M. Miller performing a solo to recognize the Trailblazers.

Johnson will present the awards Sunday, March 26, from 3-4:30 p.m. at Ours Studios, 5311 Dividend Drive, Stonecrest.

Watch the event at on Facebook:

Other honorees will include:

• Cindy Ball, Chief of Strategy and Innovation for Rockdale County Public Schools, which consists of 22 schools and nearly 16,000 students. 

• Cassandra Bryant: A DeKalb County community leader and advocate who has been on the front lines for seniors and workers since the 1970s. A past president of the Lynwood Community in Brookhaven, she also served as secretary of the United Auto Workers Union Civil Rights Committee.

• Mayira Bunting: A leading proponent of increased access and inclusion for all, especially reaching out to immigrant and refugee communities around metro Atlanta.

• Charlene Fang, a member of the DeKalb County Board of Property Assessors, she has served as the senior vice president of business development for Touchmark National Bank. She also serves as a liaison between the City of Doraville and the Chinese American community.

• Brenda Jackson: Co-founder of the South DeKalb Neighborhoods Coalition, Inc. and owner of Brenda Jackson & Associates Event Planning since 1998.

• Dr. Lois Keith, national chair for the National Council of Negro Women. She is a community leader who advocates for teachers and the youth. She is a retired educator.

• Liane Levetan, the first woman elected to the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners. In 1993, she was elected the county’s first female CEO, and served for two terms. In 1998 under her leadership, DeKalb County was named one of only 10 cities/counties nationally to win the All-American City Award.

• Gwendolyn Mason, co-founder and Executive Director of the Stewart Foundation. She is an author, minister, motivational speaker, entrepreneur, and community advocate.

• Nam Thi Nguyen: Originally from Vietnam, Nguyen is an entrepreneur. She opened her own alteration shop in DeKalb County to address the growing need of seamstresses and tailors.

• Teresa Punzi: Executive Director and founder of The Smart Place Adult and Children Services Center. The Smart Place serves those on the autism spectrum and those who are intellectually and developmentally disabled.

• Jennifer Rutledge: Executive Director of Government Affairs and the County Clerk in Rockdale County.  She has served in Rockdale County government since 1996.

• Aurora Santana: A graduate of Cross Keys High School, she volunteers as an interpreter and is a strong advocate for civic responsibility. She has served as a service writer in an international franchise and as an administrator for the Chamblee Chamber of Commerce.

• Tresa Smith: Author, entrepreneur, humanitarian, and a volunteer with many organizations throughout metro Atlanta. She is the visionary and creative producer for stage plays pertaining to human trafficking, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, homelessness, and substance use.

• Beatrice Woulard Williams: Civil and human rights champion. As a member of the NAACP, she has been on the front lines for social justice, civil and voting rights. In 2017, she helped launch R.O.S.E. PAC for women seeking elected office.