Students striving for peace

  • Acadia “Cady” Black. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Siobhan Davis. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Maya Laur at Monday’s Black Lives Matter protest in Northampton. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Maya Laur. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Mason Wicks-Lim. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Maya Laur and her father at a rally calling for justice for George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man killed by a Minneapolis Police officer, in Greenfield on May 30. Laur is the recipient of a Peacemaker Award. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

  • Skylar Craig. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • (Clockwise) Claire Grunberg, Ruby Chase, Solomon Chase, Reilly Osborne, Haven Vincent Warner, and Aislyn Jewett of The Sunrise Movement at The Academy at Charlemont. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Clock-wise, Ella McDaniel, Reyna Ortiz and Gracelyn Tatta of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Turners Falls. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/6/2020 4:02:21 AM
Modified: 6/6/2020 4:02:08 AM

It was the suggestion of the Rev. Stan Aksamit in 1999 — in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado and incidents of youth violence in this region — that the Interfaith Council of Franklin County and Traprock Center for Peace & Justice find a way to recognize young people for their contributions to well-being, non-violence and justice.

This suggestion birthed the first Peacemaker Awards in the spring of 2000.

Teenagers throughout Franklin County have been acknowledged over the years for their accomplishments within their schools, churches or a wider community and, often, students have addressed the concerns of the time. Recent justice issues have been centered around anti-bullying efforts, peer mediation, gay rights and Students Against Destructive Decisions (formerly Students Against Driving Drunk). But students have also reached beyond their country’s borders, with Invisible Children Inc., collecting books for students in war-torn African nations, with a micro-financed program for leading a protest against the violence in Darfur, by assisting indigenous people in Central America, by raising money for people in Rwanda, and by working with Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission.

The award winners and their families, as well as the sponsors who nominate them, are typically honored in a public program in May. But this year’s program, the 20th annual, has been canceled due to COVID-19, serving as another notch in the novel coronavirus’ belt. However, each honoree can expect to receive a certificate commending them for their efforts and a $25 award.

Diana Roberts, who sits on Traprock’s Board of Directors, said students are chosen for their efforts “to make the world a better place.”

The 2020 Peacemaker Award recipients are Acadia “Cady” Black, The Sunrise Movement at The Academy at Charlemont, Skylar Craig, Siobhan Davis, Maya Laur, the group of Ella McDaniel, Reyna Ortiz, and Gracelyn Tatta at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Turners Falls, and Mason Wicks-Lim.

Black, 16, lives in New Salem and is a home-schooled and dual-enrollment student at Greenfield Community College. This year, she served on the planning committee for the GCC celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and designed a youth workshop on climate change for the event in January. She has been involved with the social justice Journey Camp as a camper since she was 7, and worked as a manager in the summer of 2019. She was chosen by Traprock to be a Peace Fellow for 2019-20.

The Sunrise Movement at The Academy at Charlemont is a youth-led political movement made up of Solomon Chase, Ruby Chase, Haven Vincent Warner, Claire Grunberg, Reilly Osborne, and Aislyn Jewett. The group planned and attended protests in Boston and elsewhere regarding the climate crisis. It also held a “school teach-in” to educate the school community on the science behind climate change. The students have also established “Sunrise Hubs” in other towns.

Craig, a student at Four Rivers Public Charter School, and Gabriella Vacarelo, a support counselor at the Community Center for Resilience After Trauma, co-facilitated a weekly teen support group called the Peer Support and Mental Health Education Club. Craig researched a topic each week to teach the group and they would share their own experience or interpretation of the topic.

“My own experiences with mental illness inspired me to run the peer mental health group as a method of low pressure education and crisis prevention,” Craig told the Greenfield Recorder.

Davis is a TAB (Training Active Bystanders) Trainer in her school, teaching and modeling mediation skills to younger students. She served as the Ambassador of Orange for Project 351, a youth community organization, and encouraged peers to donate clothes to families in need. She also interned for State Rep. Susannah Whipps and explored topics of diversity, equality, advocacy in the Craft Your Own Life program at Seeds of Solidarity and applied what she learned to her school and community service work.

“I am inspired to act because we are all human, no matter race, gender or sexual identity, social or economic class, ability, or any other defining factor that sets us apart from one another,” she said. “I strongly believe that in a world such as this, equality is both the first step and the end goal for change, and because of this, I am inspired to use my voice as an ally and a platform for teamwork.”

Laur, a student at Deerfield Academy, has been a peacemaker and activist for her four years at her school. After visiting the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and working with asylum seekers in San Antonio, Tx., Laur discovered her calling of fighting for immigrant rights. She has co-hosted a Deerfield forum, spoken alongside immigrants at a pro-immigration rally, written essays and spoken about the crisis on radio. She has also created an immigration curriculum that a Spanish teacher at Deerfield Academy is using.

“I advocate for those who cross our oceans and borders because whether we boarded the Mayflower in 1620 or braved the Sonoran Desert yesterday, we all deserve a chance at the American Dream,” she told The Recorder in an email. “I would like to dedicate this award to all the activists of color at the Capitol, behind a desk, or out on the streets right now who are calling for us, as a nation, to rise from the slumber of indifference and charge into the dawn of justice.”

Laur recently attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Northampton and a Greenfield rally calling for justice for George Floyd, who was killed at the hands of a Minneapolis Police officer in May.

As part of their Catholic confirmation class, McDaniel, Ortiz and Tatta collected and donated books for inmates at the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction. They learned recidivism rates fall significantly with more education and training, and the jail’s library was in need of new or gently used books. They organized 10 drop-off locations, made collection boxes, publicized the project through The Recorder and 98.3 WHAI, and recruited help from the Greenfield High School Student Council and Key Club and other young people at their church. When all was said and done, they had sorted and donated more than 2,000 books to the correctional facility’s library.

Wicks-Lim, 15, a homeschooled student taking a couple of classes at GCC, has undertaken projects and activities for peace and justice as well as working toward diversity and racial justice. He traveled with family to Homestead, Fla., last year and made a 19-minute documentary about migrant children being held there in a for-profit detention center. He has shown the film, which can be found on YouTube at rb.gy/odhwws, in the local area and it was also selected for the Boston International Kids Film Festival.

“My goal in making ‘Homes Instead’ was to motivate more people to act,” Wicks-Lim said. “However, my own motivation for creating the documentary, came from a place of common decency. I believe that everyone who has privilege should feel obligated to stand up for those without. Making my documentary seemed like the most effective way for me to help.”

The Interfaith Council of Franklin County and Traprock Center for Peace & Justice ask people to be on the lookout for deserving young people to be nominated next year for the 21st Annual Peacemaker Awards.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@recorder.com.




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