Amherst’s Ononibaku to receive community service award


Staff Writer
Published: 9/30/2019 11:35:27 PM

AMHERST — Since arriving in Amherst more than 35 years ago, Pat Ononibaku has focused her energy on improving education by promoting social justice and equal opportunities for all children, and addressing racial disparities in discipline, while also being a mentor and a socially conscious entrepreneur.

Later this month, Ononibaku will be presented the Jean Haggerty Award for Community Service by Amherst Media at its annual meeting, Oct. 17 at 6:30 p.m., at its 246 College St. headquarters.

“I am humbled and honored,” Ononibaku said of receiving the award. “Knowing I am a good mom and grandmother is enough for me, so to be recognized for this award by Amherst Media came as a surprise and a delight.”

Ononibaku, who many know as Mrs. Pat, immigrated to the United States from Nigeria in 1983, settling in Amherst with her husband, Charles, and raising five children who went through the Amherst public schools. The couple has also been foster parents to many children.

Much of her effort with education has focused on academic excellence and being a voice for equal educational access, especially for children with special needs.

Ononibaku said her “it takes a village” philosophy of helping others is something she grew up with in her family.

“I like to care for people. It’s in my blood and genes,” Ononibaku said. “To all the people who give me strength, I’m sharing the award with them.”

Inspired by her own son who has autism, Ononibaku and another mother co-founded Multicultural Families of Amherst Area, a program offering information, programming and support for students with disabilities and their families.

She runs BakuCare Adult Day Health Center in Hadley and for a decade operated the former Baku’s African Restaurant in downtown Amherst.

Ononibaku is also a founding member of Race and Discipline, Action, Rights, or RaDAR, which raises awareness and seeks to end racial disparities in school discipline. Ononibaku continues to be involved with RaDAR through a subcommittee that annually selects a school district employee for the Norma Jean Anderson Civil Rights and Academic Achievement Award, presented during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Community Breakfast in January.

Ononibaku was also active in the Fort River Elementary School Parent Guardian Organization, helped organize the African, Latino/Hispanic, Asian and Native American (ALANA) Committee to increase parent engagement and co-founded the Diversity and Anti-Bias Parent Committee to address racism. She served as the chairwoman of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council for several years, and participated in Amherst Study Circles: Dialogues on Race and Class, which brought parents and community members together across the racial and economic divide to promote a more just public school system.

At her workplaces, she has mentored youth in work ethics, women in entrepreneurship, and low-income individuals in financial literacy.

Ononibaku added that she appreciates the role Amherst Media plays in town, allowing her and others to stay informed about Amherst’s institutions.

The annual award was created in 2009 as a tribute to Haggerty, an Amherst Media producer and board member who dedicated her life to community betterment and advocacy for those without a voice.

Previous individual honorees have included Isaac Ben Ezra, Cynthia Brubaker, Ed Severance, Judy Brooks, Jerry Gates and Ellen Story, as well as groups such as the founders of Student News, the Rotary Club of Amherst and the Amherst League of Women Voters.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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