Austin residents recognized on MLK Day

Published 7:09 am Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It takes a team to spread diversity through a school district. For that reason, all of Austin Public School’s success coaches were awarded the 2011 Organization Human Rights Award by the Austin Human Rights Commission during the HRC’s Human Rights Assembly Monday Night.

“These people work every day, and advocate for children and families, and I am humbled and blessed to work with them,” said Lori Henry, the district’s ELL coordinator.

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While several success coaches were surprised to hear they were receiving an award, they aren’t letting it get to their heads.

“That’s what we strive for, to make (diversity) happen,” said Olivia Gonzalez.

Success coaches don’t just lead Spanish-speaking parent meetings, as they help families and students figure out the ins and outs of the school system and the community at large. They also challenge Hispanic students to rise above stereotypes and achieve academic and personal success some students otherwise wouldn’t aspire towards.

“We help students keep busy,” said Raquel Imbert. “A busy mind is a healthy mind.”

Sister Ruth Snyder won this year’s individual human rights award for her charitable work around the community, including conducting prayer meetings at Mower County Jail, driving needy residents around and interpreting for new residents.

“There’s no thing that’s too small for Sister Ruth to do,” said Kristi Beckman, an HRC member who gave Snyder the award. “She understands that there’s no such thing as a small obstacle for members new to the community.”

Snyder for her part feels humbled by the award, but believes others deserve much more credit.

“It’s a humbling thing,” Snyder said, who was surprised when she found out she won because, “what I do are very small things.”

Other events at the assembly included a discussion lead by James Kates, public school teacher, speaker and a former civil rights activist who volunteered in Mississippi in 1964 as part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Kates spoke to a crowd of 60 to 70 people about what it felt like living in Mississippi at that time, how SNCC volunteers wouldn’t go out without being in groups and how little things like unscrewing the dome light in a car so it wouldn’t flash when the car door opened was part of the fear that volunteers lived with and got used to while working down there.

High school students and HRC members read poems from the book, “Letters from Mississippi: Reports from Civil Rights Volunteers & Poetry of the 1964 Freedom Summer,” along with Josie Nelson reading her winning HRC essay from last year.

“We wanted to tell stories about the young kids who were there in Mississippi,” said Karem Salas, one of the students who read poems. “What they did, what they experienced. I felt very happy to share this with everyone.”

In all, the night was considered a success by the HRC.

“I thought it was terrific,” said Kirsten Lindbloom, the HRC’s chairwoman. “I felt like it was a celebration of community and that we honored folks well tonight.”

Lindbloom hopes the event will inspire more residents to volunteer and serve others in the community after listening to so many stories of charity and advocacy.

During the assembly, a high school student asked Kates for advice on how to do just that, while positively changing their community.

“Look around your community, see what’s working right, and go support that,” Kates answered.