Four to receive Unsung Heroes Awards
Kelly Homan Rodoski
Four people will receive awards as Unsung Heroes during the 24th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, “Dare to Imagine a Better World.” The event will be held Sunday, Jan. 18, at the Carrier Dome at 6:30 p.m.
This year’s award recipients are Keith Alford, professor of social work in Syracuse University’s College of Human Ecology; Collin Capano ’05, a graduate student in the physics department in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences; Ronald Denby, assistant dean for information technology at Syracuse University College of Law; and Helen Hudson, co-founder of the Syracuse community group Mothers Against Gun Violence.
The art of listening and the philosophy of tapping into people’s strengths are two important cornerstones that Alford brings to his work as a professor of social work in SU’s College of Human Ecology. Alford imparts to his students the importance of focusing on strengths rather than deficits, being compassionate and respecting the many forms of difference.
Alford’s gift for giving back runs deep through the greater Syracuse community. Outside of his work at SU, he serves on numerous boards and has volunteered with the Community Wide Dialogue to End Racism Program through Interfaith Works CNY for many years. He has also been involved with Enable, the Dunbar Center and the Center for Community Alternatives, among many community organizations. Alford is also a leader in his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Inc., and for many years has engaged fellow members in service to support African American young men and boys and supplement the teaching happening within the family. He was recently appointed as a member of the Onondaga County Public Library Board of Trustees.
Alford earned his master’s of social work degree and Ph.D. at The Ohio State University. He was encouraged by his mentor, Jim Lantz, to pursue his Ph.D., and later to enter academia. “He saw in me what I didn’t see in myself,” Alford says. He has been a faculty member at SU since 1996.
Collin Capano ’05
Capano founded A Men’s Issue (AMI), a student group that creates opportunities for discussion about masculinity and what it means to be a male in a society where sexual violence is prevalent. A recognized student group since 2004, AMI provides a safe place for self-reflection and dialogue, and a forum for exploring options and developing skills to make healthy, intentional choices. Capano established the group and served as president during his senior year. He now serves as a co-mentor to the men who are now part of the group, which has extended its educational outreach to the Syracuse community by giving violence prevention workshops in local high schools.
In the Spring 2008 semester, Capano led AMI in a process of discussion and gathering of input from students, faculty and staff about the reorganization of the R.A.P.E. Center within the Division of Student Affairs. The division later reinstituted the previous R.A.P.E. Center structure. Capano acknowledges his fellow AMI members for their hard work and commitment. “None of the things AMI has done would have happened without them,” he says.
Capano has also gone on two winter break trips to New Orleans-in 2006 and 2008-to help in recovery/rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina, and a May 2008 trip to Botswana with Hendricks Chapel to help build a school for children orphaned by AIDS. On each trip, Capano did more than just rebuild-he worked to connect with the persons affected.
After his first mission trip to the Dominican Republic, Denby trained with World Servants, Inc., to become a volunteer mission leader and has since organized or assisted in organizing annual service-based trips for his congregation, the First Baptist Church of Syracuse, and other faith-based communities. World Servants is a not-for-profit organization that works with church-based mission teams on projects in impoverished communities, both nationally and internationally.
Denby has spearheaded two more trips to the Dominican Republic to expand on the work that began in 1999; a trip to the Navajo Nation in Arizona to help rebuild homes; and several trips to Kamanzi, Kenya, the home village of former church member and SU alumnus Patrick Kimani.
Working in partnership with SU Professor Joanna Masingila, the mission trips to Kamanzi have led to an ongoing relationship among Denby’s congregation, the village and the Iia-Itune African Brotherhood Church. As a result, much work has been accomplished, including building a new school, library and kitchen and establishing a teacher-training program.
On the home front, Denby has been a member of the board of directors for Onondaga Community Living (OCL) for more than eight years. In addition to his board duties, which include two terms as president, Denby has visited the people OCL serves at their homes and workplaces and advocates on their behalf.
For nearly 20 years, Denby has served in a variety of leadership roles at the First Baptist Church of Syracuse, leading ministry teams, advocating for and mentoring youth, and working with refugee families sponsored by the church.
In 2002, Hudson and her niece, Lakesha Martin-Hargnett, founded Mothers Against Gun Violence (MAGV). It is composed of 22 women, more than half of whom have lost a child to violence, including Hudson, whose stepson was killed in 2005. Under Hudson’s leadership, MAGV volunteers support those directly affected by violence, conduct workshops for youth and are an integral component of an emerging, community-based trauma response team.
The most visible piece of Hudson’s work is the prayer vigils MAGV organizes for every homicide victim, held at the site of the violence, regardless of the weather.
Under Hudson’s leadership, MAGV volunteers conduct nonviolence workshops in the Syracuse City schools. They also work with New Justice Conflict Resolution Services, Inc., conducting workshops for the agency’s new RESTORE program, a 10-week training program for probationary youth between the ages of 16-21.
Following the murder of Troy Mims, 16, who was killed in August in a drive-by shooting as he was walking on Midland Avenue, Hudson met with Deputy Chief Frank Fowler of the Syracuse City Police Department; the Rev. William Lott, executive director of the Violence Intervention Program at the Southwest Community Center; and Tim Jennings, an outreach worker at the Southwest Community Center, to find a better way to respond to the growing violence in the community. They are now developing the final components for a community-based trauma response team.
In addition to her work with MAGV, Hudson is co-chair of the Gift of Life Campaign for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation to increase the number of people of color registered on the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry. She is a member of the Community Advisory Council for the Violence Intervention and Prevention Program, Operation Big Vote (GOTV), and the NAACP, and a former member of the steering committee of the Inter-Religious Labor Council, among others.