Young orator urges humanity to celebrate diversity

27 March 2003

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Diversity in the human race should be welcomed, according to the winner of a speech competition for New Zealand youth.

Xavier Black, 17, said in her address that people need to "change how we as human with difference and manage our lives."

We should see our differences as a cause of celebration rather than as a threat, said Xavier, who is Maori.

She delivered her speech in Auckland on 28 March 2003 at the Hedi Moani Memorial Speech Award, an annual competition open to all students in the last three years of high school in New Zealand.

The award is sponsored by the Hedi Moani Charitable Trust and the New Zealand Baha'i community.

This year the set topic of the speech was "From the head to the heart--beyond tolerance to the celebration of human diversity." The chief judge was the former Race Relations Conciliator for New Zealand, Dr. Rajen Prasad.

In her prize-winning address, Xavier, a student at Diocesan School in Auckland, described her experience facing the challenges of integration and being in a minority as being "a gentile in a Jewish primary school, as Maori in descent but not growing up in my iwi (tribe), as a middle-class New Zealand girl with limited Spanish attending a school in a poor part of Madrid."

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The late Hedi Moani, a member of the New Zealand Baha'i community, in whose honor a speech award was established.

Xavier urged individuals to face their fears, develop their sense of belonging, and listen with "generosity in our hearts" in a way that "creates a dialogue and a way forward."

People must realize that we are united by our common humanity -- and make a commitment to overcome racism, she said.

Xavier, who is not a member of the Baha'i community, won NZ$750 (US$412) and a shield, her school receiving a similar award.

The late Mr. Moani, a member of the Baha'i Faith, was a prime mover in the establishment in New Zealand in 1999 of what is now known as Race Relations Day. It is observed on March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

After Mr. Moani's untimely death in 1998 at the age of 54, he was described in his city's daily newspaper, The New Zealand Herald, as "a man of God." A speech award was established to honor him and to mark Race Relations Day.

The competition began in 1999 with 19 students representing 14 schools in Auckland and Northland but it has expanded to the extent that this year it attracted 49 students from 31 schools from as far away as the country's South Island.