Every year at this time, The Independent pays homage with our Citizen Awards to the Triangle’s unsung heroes–people whose names you may not be familiar with, but whose influences resonate throughout our communities. Each of our award winners is affecting immediate and enduring change. Each, in unique fashion, is an educator. Each and all are in the trenches: in our neighborhoods and classrooms, at rallies and public forums, in legislative lobbies and city council galleries.

This year, we’ve chosen five representatives of the unsung many who are working for social justice in our midst:

Bill Padgett is a founding member of the Neighborhood Coalition for Responsible Development in Raleigh, an organization born of opposition to the “Coker Towers” development, now evolved into a citywide social-action force.

Daniella Cook is an educator by training and a firebrand by birth: As an organizer for the Common Sense Foundation, she’s challenging the state’s reliance on “high-stakes” testing.

At 17, DeWarren Langley is a seasoned activist who believes youth should have a voice in the policies and institutions that affect their lives. He’s founded an organization that aims to give young people in Durham a forum for influencing local government.

For nearly 40 years, Gail Phares has moved in and out of Latin America, advocating for the poor and the assailed, both in their communities and ours. Her “witness” delegations to Central America have interrupted wars and sparked grassroots peace initiatives.

Chapel Hill-based Empowerment Inc., under the directorship of Mark Chilton, is about helping lower- and middle-income families fulfill their dreams of home ownership and in so doing, preserving the heart of local neighborhoods.

So read on and join us in singing the praises of these extraordinary citizens.