Five will be honored with Unsung Heroes and Heroines Awards at Syracuse University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration
The following are the 2001 recipients of Unsung Heroes andHeroines Awards, to be presented during the 16th Annual Martin Luther King Jr.Celebration at Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome Jan. 20. The awards arepresented to people from SU and the greater Syracuse community who exemplify thespirit, life and teachings of King but who are not widely recognized for theirefforts. The presentations will be made during the program, which begins at 6:30p.m.
Inez Mack, volunteer director of the Hopps Memorial C.M.E.Outreach Program
When she retired from her job with the Syracuse HousingAuthority six years ago, Syracuse native Inez Mack looked forward to a life ofleisure.
“I told myself that I would sit down and just do nothingfor awhile,” she says. Her leisurely lifestyle didn’t last long. The Rev.Larry S. Howard of Hopps Memorial C.M.E. church asked Mack if she could spare acouple of hours a week to do paperwork for the church’s Outreach Program,which has provided meals, food baskets and clothing to those in need since 1979.Mack figured she could spare the time, so she said yes. A few days after shestarted, the program’s volunteer coordinator left to take a full-time job.
“Rev. Howard asked me to fill in just until he could findsomeone else,” Mack says. “I couldn’t say no. The rest ishistory.”
Howard describes Mack as someone who is always there to lend ahelping hand, regardless of the need. “Inez will help whenever we ask herto serve,” Howard says. “She is a missionary in our church, a workerwith our youth, a grandmother and a single parent of four. Lastly, she has aheart as big as the State of New York, and we all love her.”
Mack and her crew of eight “regular” volunteers worktirelessly, five days a week, providing hot meals for as many as 100 adults aday and emergency food baskets for families in need. Mack and Donnie Herring dothe majority of the cooking and meal planning, based on the provisions that flowthrough their door. The ladies generally arrive at the church by 9:30 a.m. andleave after the last meal is distributed around 4 p.m. On Fridays, Mack andHerring are given a respite from cooking by Ernestine Dowdell.
“Donnie is my backbone,” Mack says. “She hasbeen with me since day one. And I have a good soldier in Linda Sexton, who comesthree days a week and walks in working.”
The rest of Mack’s faithful volunteers slip in and outthroughout the day. Regardless of when they come or how long they can stay,there’s always work to do, whether it involves picking up food from areachurches or restaurants; unloading, sorting and packaging food that is delivereddirectly to Hopps; packing up the individual meals; washing dishes; or sortingdonated clothing. The group works together like a well-oiled machine.
“God has blessed us by giving us good people to workwith, and we get the job done,” Mack says.
The majority of the people who show up for the daily meal aresingle; some are homeless, Mack says. Most are men, but she says the number ofwomen who come for meals has been steadily increasing. Their ages range from 18to 80.
“We don’t ask questions; we simply offer them food, anear to listen and sometimes someone just needs a hug,” Mack says.
The work is hard. Mack says she works harder now than she didbefore retiring. She goes home tired; sometimes she gets discouraged. But shealso says she feels blessed to have this opportunity to give something back tothe community that supported her while she struggled to raise four children.
“I’ve become more humble,” Mack says. “I’vemet so many beautiful people, and I get paid in ways that are more valuable thanmoney. Sometimes, when I’m really tired, someone comes up to me and says ‘thankyou for the meal,’ and gives me a hug. It just makes my day.”
Larry Williams, conflict mediation and resolution specialistat Liverpool High School
The first lesson Larry Williams taught as a social studiesstudent teacher in Liverpool High School was titled the “Latin AmericanRap.” His students were thrilled. Together, the class rapped through thehistory of the Panama Canal, and they all aced the exam the following week.
Williams, who is now the high school’s conflict mediationand resolution specialist, didn’t plan a career in education. After graduatingfrom SUNY Binghamton in 1982, the Syracuse native tried selling cars and laterlife insurance, but he failed miserably at both. His fatal flaw–he took toomuch time with his clients and cared too much about them, so his supervisorssaid.
He then landed a job with the Syracuse Boys and Girls Club asdirector of a youth employment program. While there, Williams developed a knackfor working with youth, which became his life calling. Williams next worked as aprobation officer before he decided to embark on a career in education. Heenrolled in the teacher certification program at the SUNY College at Cortland in1989. “I thrived in the program,” he says. “It was a wonderfulexperience.”
Williams planned to begin his teaching career in an inner-cityschool in Syracuse. But his mentor, Cortland faculty member Roger Seifer,changed all of that when he chose Liverpool High School as the setting forWilliams’ student teaching experience, despite Williams’ misgivings.
“He said to me, ‘Larry, you have an ability to reachkids. No matter where you work, kids will benefit from you as a human being andas a teacher,'” Williams says. “I agreed to do it. The experienceturned out to be one of the most powerful experiences of my life.”
After graduating from Cortland in 1990, Williams accepted afull-time teaching position at Liverpool High School during a time when tensionsamong students–black and white–were high. As he was walking down the hallduring his fourth day on the job, Williams recalls a white student blurting out,”Oh, s___, a black teacher!” To which Williams spontaneously replied,”Oh my God, where?”
“Everyone broke out in laughter,” Williams says.”The moment was an ice-breaker between the students and me.”
Williams has been breaking ice and building bridges in thehigh school community ever since. “I didn’t set out intentionally to easetensions,” Williams says. “But it became a question of ‘How do weget students of color to become an active part of this institution of learning,to be comfortable within the school and to be accepted?'”
Shortly after arriving, Williams established UMOJA (a Swahiliword for unity), an after-school program designed to promote racialreconciliation. Determined to help students move beyond their differences andembrace their commonalties, Williams used UMOJA as a vehicle to promote culturalunderstanding within the community. The group’s first event was a communitytalent show. It featured seven acts, and 20 people were in the audience.”People thought UMOJA was just for black people,” Williams says.”We realized it would be difficult to break the stereotype.”
Undaunted, Williams and his students persevered. The followingyear, 100 people attended. The annual talent show is now among the mostanticipated multicultural events in the school, boasting some 25 acts and asell-out crowd. “The show is a community event,” Williams says.”We now have the problem of having too many people audition for it.”
UMOJA also sponsors an annual Kwanza banquet, which attractssome 200 people, and a series of events to celebrate Black History Month.”While UMOJA’s membership is still mostly black students, the group iswidely accepted and is associated with cultural events that are out of theordinary and that are designed to enrich our community,” Williams says.
Williams’ youth advocacy goes beyond his job. He and hiswife, Eva, are active members of their church and of their community. The coupleand their three daughters live in Syracuse’s South Side, the community withinwhich Williams grew up. Williams was instrumental in reviving the Kirk ParkColts Pop Warner Football Association, helping to raise some $75,000 to get theteam up and running again in 1991. The organization serves some 300 boys andgirls through its football, flag team and tutoring programs. Williams alsoteaches workshops on conflict resolution and mediation in churches, schools andcommunity organizations throughout Central New York.
“I want all of my students to know they have a place onthis earth, be they black, white, male or female,” Williams says. “It’sabout diversity, respect for others, Umoja, and understanding that they wereborn for a purpose and they can be successful. I thank God for giving me theopportunity to make positive changes in people’s lives.”
Aaron Kingson, senior at Fayetteville-Manlius High School
During his sophomore year at Fayetteville-Manlius High School,Aaron Kingson began looking for an opportunity to volunteer. He decided to offerhis time and talent to the Fayette Street Boys and Girls Club in Syracuse,located not far geographically from school and his home in Manlius. In socialand economic terms, though, the miles between his high school and the clubcouldn’t seem farther apart.
Kingson began volunteering at the club in the spring of 1999.He works as a mentor with youths ages 6 to 12, helping them with homework,playing games, and often just engaging in conversation, showing an interest andconcern that they may not see elsewhere in their lives.
“It has really been great for me,” says Kingson, nowan F-M senior. “I like F-M, but in some sense it is like being in a bubble.There isn’t a lot of diversity, particularly in racial and socioeconomicterms. Through my time at the club, I have experienced a different end of thespectrum.”
Kingson was inspired by his experience but realized that thework that needed to be done was more than he could do alone. This past summer,he brought a dozen of his friends to the club, “those who were interestedin volunteering for the right reasons,” he says. Collectively, the grouplogged about 500 volunteer hours over the summer.
Kingson decided to take his volunteer experience a stepfurther by developing a new program this past fall that would bring his highschool and the club together in an unprecedented way. After obtaining thesupport of F-M administrators and teachers, he went into classrooms to speakabout the club. Kingson recruited more than 80 student volunteers to work withyouths in five program areas: leadership and educational development; sports,fitness and recreation; leadership and character development; the arts; andhealth and life skills. Kingson develops publicity for the program andcoordinates transportation for the volunteers. His father, SU professor ofsocial work Eric Kingson, provides advice when needed.
Kingson says the experience has been both fulfilling andeye-opening. “I take for granted that I have two caring parents, a nicehouse to live in and will be going to college,” he says. “That is notthey way it is for the kids at the club. My parents always taught me to givesomething back. I hope I have also helped other people recognize what is outthere.”
As a senior, Kingson is now applying to colleges (he plans tomajor in economics). He is confident that the partnership he has created betweenthe Fayette Street Boys and Girls Club and Fayetteville-Manlius High School willcontinue to be strong even after he has moved on.
Kingson says he is proud to be a recipient of the award.”I am very pleased and honored,” he says. “It’s nice to knowthat things are recognized.”
Shenea Hunt, junior information management and technologymajor in the School of Information Studies
Shenea Hunt says she is basically a shy person. But sincearriving at Syracuse University three years ago, the junior informationmanagement and technology major in the School of Information Studies has takenthe lead in efforts to promote diversity and social justice and to further thedialogue on race relations on campus.
Last fall, Hunt planned and organized the fourth annualleadership conference sponsored by SU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs–anaccomplishment of which she is very proud. The conference, “Pressure Pointsin 21st Century Media: Deconstructing Stereotypes, Applying the Theoretical andMaintaining Privacy,” brought together students, faculty, andrepresentatives from both campus and professional media organizations to discussissues of diversity, cultural sensitivity and how minorities are portrayed inthe media.
“This was something I needed to do for myself,” Huntsays. “The conference was the result of a number of issues that have beendiscussed on campus during the past couple of years. We had panelists fromstudent newspapers and from media organizations in the community.”
Hunt has worked in the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA)since her freshman year. In addition to planning the leadership conference forthe OMA, Hunt developed a database of scholarship and internship opportunitiesfor students that is now located on OMA’s Web site, and she has eagerly helpedstudents use OMA services.
“Through her work at the OMA and other organizations oncampus, Shenea has demonstrated a commitment to her fellow students, her collegeand her family in furthering social justice issues and pushing forward thedialogue on race relations,” says Irma Almirall-Padamsee, former directorof the OMA. “Shenea does not hesitate to jump into a situation to pull thepieces together and make things work.”
Hunt has been a student representative to SU’s Board ofTrustees, has served on the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Diversity, andhas been a member of the executive board of the Black and Latino InformationStudies Support (BLISTS) student organization in the School of InformationStudies. Growing up in the Bronx and graduating from an inner-city high schoolhas given Hunt what she believes is a unique perspective on some of thedifficulties students of color face in their pursuit of higher education. Sheshared her insights with the Chancellor’s committee when it was looking atways to increase the number of students of color on campus.
“I told the committee that one of the reasons studentsdon’t bother to apply to universities like SU might be because of poorguidance from high schools,” Hunt says. “Our high school guidancecounselor discouraged us from applying to private universities, regardless ofour grades. She told me not to apply to SU, and she told the class valedictoriannot to apply to Yale University. I’m the first one from my family to go tocollege. We had to learn about the application process as we went along. It wasvery difficult.”
Hunt says her experiences at SU have helped her developleadership skills and to explore issues from a variety of viewpoints.”There will always be problems in the world and on campus, but if you cando something to change things within yourself and in others, you can make thingsbetter. Getting involved makes you a well-rounded person.”
Adrea Jaehnig, associate director of SU’s Office ofResidence Life
As associate director of Syracuse University’s Office ofResidence Life (ORL), Adrea Jaehnig is responsible for the office’s budget andoperations, and has oversight of learning communities and human resources. Butthrough her role as chair of ORL’s Diversity Committee, Jaehnig has gained therespect of students, faculty and staff as one who advocates for a Universityculture that celebrates diversity.
The ORL Diversity Committee provides education, training andresources for faculty and staff, and implements diversity programs and servicesaimed at educating and challenging students. In addition to her official ORLresponsibilities, Jaehnig works tirelessly as an advocate, counselor and friendof students. She counsels students in SU’s Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender (GLBT)community, helping them to transition to University life and to succeed.Following a recent incident of anti-gay sentiment on campus, Jaehnig advocatedon behalf of the GLBT community.
She has also served as the advisor to Pride Union, theUniversity’s GLBT organization; has created Rainbow Alliance, a group ofResidence Life paraprofessional and professional staff who are GLBT orquestioning; is a member of the University Senate’s ad hoc committee for GLBT;and has served for three years on the board of directors of AIDS CommunityResources, most recently as secretary.
“Simply put, Adrea is the champion of GLBT students andstaff on this campus,” says Khristian Kemp-DeLisser, a senior in TheCollege of Arts and Sciences. “I haven’t met anyone who cares as deeplyabout marginalized people of all kinds.
“Through the ORL Diversity Committee, Adrea created andran a program dealing with race relations called Skin Deep, of which I was aparticipant. She ensures that ORL fulfills its commitment to diversity.”
Jaehnig says helping others comes natural to her. “I seeit as an act of who I am–a person who cares about the human condition,”she says. “If I see something unjust, I can’t turn my back on it.”
Jaehnig’s caring nature has earned the admiration of thosewho work with her.
“Like Dr. King, Adrea is an educator,” says TomEllett, director of the Office of Residence Life. “She not only spends timeunderstanding the issues facing people who are oppressed but spends timeenhancing their lives.
“She leads by example,” Ellett says. “While itmight be easy to stay silent, Adrea makes sure that her presence is felt in amanner that brings people together. She is a unique individual who rises to thechallenge of creating a community that cares and understands one another. We atSyracuse University are very fortunate to have such a dedicated and competentindividual, role modeling values that reflect human care. Her work is endless,as is the cause of the human rights of all people.”
“Adrea is open to discussion and creates a caring andcomforting environment for people of all races, religions and backgrounds,”says Remya Venkateswaran, a sophomore in the School of Management. “Sheshows an eagerness to learn, gives support in times when it is needed, and isalways ready to lend a hand. She is the very picture of culturalunderstanding.”
Jaehnig, who arrived at Syracuse University eight years ago,says she is honored to be a recipient of the MLK Unsung Heroine Award.
“It is truly an honor to receive this award in the nameof Martin Luther King,” she says. “Like Dr. King, I believe that theuniverse is bent toward justice and we all have our role to play in gettingthere.”