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Unsung Hero No More: Hedi Rudd Honored With Nan Cheney March For Justice Award

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Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, on behalf of the citizens of Madison, declared May 9, 2019 "Hedi Rudd Day." (Photo by Shalicia Johnson, ArrowStar Photography)


Sometimes it’s hard to track down Hedi Rudd at a community event because she is so busy. She’s always with her camera in hand finding every perfect angle or behind the scene somewhere discovering the heart of a story.

So it was perhaps a surprise to walk into the banquet hall at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center on the evening of May 9 and find Rudd right at the door with arms wide open, beaming from ear to ear and being the center of the scene rather than organizing a way to capture it.

This evening was all about Rudd as she joined Centro Hispano Executive Director Karen Menendez Coller and Mentoring Positives CEO Will Green as the third recipient of the annual Nan Cheney March for Justice award, a $15,000 financial award given to an individual who is relentless in their pursuit of justice. Nan Cheney showed courage during the Civil Rights Movement, in particular, being willing to leave her family behind to travel to Selma to march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, into a violent torrent of racial unrest.

Hedi Rudd (third from left) celebrates her Nan Cheney Award with (l-r) sister Virginia Fladger, daughter Simone Lawrence and son DeMarcus Williams.
(Photo by Shalicia Johnson, ArrowStar Photography)

When Menendez Coller and Green won the 2017 and 2018 Nan Cheney awards, respectively, Rudd was in the room making sure the event was captured brilliantly from behind the lens. For a couple of decades now that has been her knack. She often works quietly behind the scenes either visually portraying a story, organizing an event like Urban League’s Urban Cabaret, building a one-of-a-kind program at Badger Rock or sitting in a circle and listening to people’s ideas about racial justice.

“She’s been photographing this event for the last couple years and it’s so cool she’s the one receiving it this year,” MMSD School Board member Ananda Mirilli told Madison365. “People give her a lot of accolades and no one has doubt of why she would be getting this award, but she often doesn’t get any awards. So, I think it’s fantastic for this particular award, what it means and to really elevate her profile this way. I think Hedi has touched us personally. There are a few people in the community that navigate multiple communities. She’s in the Hmong community, she’s in the black community, she’s in the Latinx community.

Hedi Rudd celebrates her Nan Cheney Award with David and Nina Cheney.
(Photo by Shalicia Johnson, ArrowStar Photography)

“She navigates all of those things with a lot of beauty and a lot of gratitude always honoring whatever space she’s at with people and she captures it,” Mirilli adds.

Forward Community Investments, who presents the Nan Cheney Award every year, has made an effort to find nominees who do outstanding work to improve the community on several fronts and levels whose contributions often may go unnoticed by the mainstream.

“It’s interesting talking to Will and Karen and what it meant to them,” FCI CEO Sally Martinyak told Madison365. “Just that it came at the right time of their lives. That’s the beauty of finding the unsung heroes. The people really who should be recognized for all the good things that they do. Hedi does what she does so unobtrusively. She is always there and she becomes a part of whatever it is.”

Recognizing all of Rudd’s hard work in the community, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, on behalf of the citizens of Madison, declared May 9, 2019, “Hedi Rudd Day.” At the event, she presented Rudd with the proclamation.

Rudd indeed enjoyed the moment with all of her friends and was jovial. And, of course, was telling the cameramen the right spots to capture it all from.

“This is awesome,” Rudd told Madison365. “It feels good because one, I don’t have to take pictures tonight and, two, just seeing all my friends. It feels very warm and very family. That’s one of my favorite things, to bring people together. I’m thankful people trust me and call me to take pictures for their events and cover them and hopefully tell their story and that’s really an honor for people to trust me to do that. So I do the best I can.”