Editorial: Monday mix on student awards; civics lesson; Toskis honored

  • Lourdes Jean-Louis, 19, a senior at Amherst Regional High School, received a $1,000 scholarship at the 16th annual  Sojourner Truth Memorial Celebration on May 27 in Florence.  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Sunday, June 03, 2018

We commend three students from Amherst and Northampton who earned well-deserved recognition in late May for their social justice activism.

Lourdes Jean-Louis and Sylvia Venus Shread, seniors at Amherst Regional High School and Northampton High School, respectively, received $1,000 scholarships awarded during the 16th annual Sojourner Truth Memorial Celebration on May 27 in Florence.

Jean-Louis, 19, described the challenges she faced with a language barrier and change in culture when she immigrated to the United States from Haiti. “Seven years ago, I moved to this country with no English and had an open mind and thirst for knowledge,” she said. “I was no longer living in the first black republic with a black majority. I was living in the minority. Black and a woman, proud and ready to inspire, be inspired, change and make a change.”

Jean-Louis attended the national Minority Students Action Network conference in Ohio during her senior year, where she focused on strategies to help students of color survive a system that predicts their failure from the beginning. She plans to study nursing and social work at Regis College in Weston.

Shread, 18, helped organize the Social Justice Week at Northampton High School, gave a presentation at a civil liberties and public policy conference and made a documentary about masculinity. “I grew up in this new movement of intersectionality and it influenced my activism so much that I joined every social justice club available when I came to Northampton High School,” she said.

Shread plans to attend Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, and create a major combining her interests in film, new media, politics, social justice and education.

On May 25, Emily Grybko, an eighth-grade student at Amherst Regional Middle School, was given the Youth Heroism Award by the Amherst Human Rights Commission. The commissioners wrote, “Emily’s work inspires all of us on the Human Rights Commission. She exemplifies the idea that one person can make a difference.”

Reacting to the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Grybko wrote a letter to Congressman James McGovern, of Worcester, that was signed by other students who offered input on Instagram. McGovern read the letter into the Congressional Record.

Grybko organized a Teens for Jeans program at the middle school and delivered 146 pairs of jeans to the Amherst Survival Center, and she volunteers at the community meal program Not Bread Alone.

The three teenagers have an inspiring dedication to public service.

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Three public officials helped sixth-graders at the Fort River Elementary School in Amherst learn a valuable civics lesson last week.

The students in the school’s civic literacy program proposed solutions to international and local issues they researched and presented their ideas to McGovern and Select Board members Alisa Brewer and Douglas Slaughter.

Zachary Dixon, 12, and Irvin Cruz Pineda, 11, talked about international aid, suggesting that the United States should invest more money in humanitarian groups such as Doctors Without Borders and the World Health Organization.

Tim Austin, who began teaching the program at Fort River four years ago, said, “This civics literacy unit gives students a chance not only to express themselves about the problems we face, but also to see themselves as an important part of the democratic process.”

He was echoed by McGovern who told the students, “I have great hope for the future, in large part because I’m meeting with people like you who are smart, curious and engaged.”

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Congratulations to renowned golfers and Haydenville natives Tom and Bob Toski, who were honored on Memorial Day in Washington, D.C., for their military service.

The brothers and about 20 other World War II veterans were invited to a commemoration hosted by the Friends of the National World War II Memorial and the National Park Service. They participated in a “Parade of Heroes” and laid wreaths on the Freedom Wall to remember their fallen comrades.

Tom Toski, 92, who served in the U.S. Navy and earned five battle stars, said the ceremony was the first time he was honored for his service.

Bob Toski, 91, a veteran of the U.S. Army, said the honor was “a very unexpected pleasure” that made him “think about the guys that never did come home.”