Benita Law-Diao - A True Community Champion
I didn’t even know super hero’s existed in the real world when I met one of my sheroes, Benita Law-Diao. I’ll never forget how young I felt to be leading a community coalition that very first meeting she attended, back when I lived and breathed the Healthy Hearts on the Hill Coalition (HHH). HHH was a coalition spearheaded through a partnership between a faith-based community health clinic, Koinonia, and UAlbany’s own CEACW. Benita was a woman who showed up to a meeting ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work. Not only did she have great ideas and work ethic, but perhaps her most impressive characteristic was to pull out her notebook filled with the contact info and various projects being coordinated around Albany that she knew of. When we had a question that needed answering or a project that needed some resources, Benita would simply connect us to whoever could make it happen! In a city where people hold closely to this kind of valuable information and egos tend to reign supreme, here was a real gem and true community champion!
Benita is a native New Yorker, who was born in Elmhurst, Queens, lived in the Bronx, got her Master of Science degree at Cornell University. She came to the Albany area and worked at the New York Department of Health as a Public Health Nutritionist, Contract Manager, and Program Research Specialist for the past 27 years. She’s worked to empower low income New Yorkers and make them more self-reliant through a variety of initiatives addressing issues related to hunger, food safety and sanitation, nutrition, food security, childhood obesity, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. Her interest in international health and environmental issues has taken her to Ghana, Senegal, Gambia, China, Belize, etc. As a member of the Albany non-profit AVillage…,Inc., Benita helped convert a vacant lot to a green space, “Our Children’s Garden,” and started the South End Farmers’ Market, a youth-entrepreneurial project that helps make farm-fresh produce accessible to South End and Mansion Hill residents.
One of my fondest memories was when Benita stepped up and co-led our Healthy Hearts on the Hill project “Zumba in the Street’’ along with me. We closed a street off all summer in West Hill and Albany’s first-of-its-kind initiative so families could participate in Zumba, skelly, basketball, hop scotch, dodge ball, etc. She also conducts free cooking classes to bring African cultural history, nutrition, simple cooking skills, delicious food tastings, and personal story sharing together. Much like myself, Benita is a passionate citizen environmentalist who rides her bicycle all over Canada and the US, hikes and kayaks. Benita has even been an American Red Cross volunteer for more than 27 years as a disaster relief volunteer, an international volunteer, a military caseworker, an emergency preparedness instructor. It’s no wonder this woman is one of my heroes. Please give it up for this fabulous champion, who without a doubt helped me develop into the change agent I am today!