Award winner advocates celebration of diversity

25 May 2005

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — People do not need to sacrifice their different cultures as they strive for a global community that recognizes common rights and values, said the winner of a national speech award organized by the New Zealand Baha'i community.

In a speech at the 2005 Race Unity Speech Award, which is soon to be broadcast on New Zealand national radio, Georgina Rood said that cultural and racial characteristics make humanity more interesting.

"Celebrating those differences as a force for unity and common good -- rather than using them as a source of division -- is the challenge we face, and have always faced," said Georgina,17, a student at Sacred Heart College in Wellington.

"Our generation can be the turning point -- we have opportunities that our parents never had," said Georgina, who is not a Baha'i.

The topic of the speeches by the six finalists was a quotation from Baha'u'llah: "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens."

The annual competition, which began in 2001 with 19 entrants, is open to all students in the last three years of high school in New Zealand.

The 100 entrants in this year's competition came from 10 regions throughout New Zealand, from Auckland in the north to Dunedin in the south. The runners up were Sasha Borissenko of Aquinas College in Tauranga and Kimberley Cook of Pakaranga College, Auckland.

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Georgina received $750 and a trophy, as did her school, and the runners up and their schools received $250 each and certificates.

The chief judge of the five-person multi-ethnic judging panel was the former Race Relations Conciliator and now the chief commissioner of the Families Commission, Rajen Prasad. The current Race Relations Commissioner, Joris De Bres, presented the prizes.

Held in conjunction with the speech award was a race unity conference, organized by the Baha'i community in partnership with the Human Rights Commission.

Participants had a choice of four workshops: "racism -- the global plague"; "cultural symbols and stereotypes"; "human rights and the Treaty of Waitangi"; "dimensions of identity."

A keynote speaker was Kirsten Zemke-White of the New Zealand Baha'i community. Dr Zemke-White, an ethnomusicologist, used songs from different decades and of different styles to show how race and race relations are intrinsic to music ranging from rock, to jazz, to hip hop.

"Race is all around is in the music we listen too, even if we're not aware of it-some of it positive and some of it negative," Dr. Zemke-White said.