ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — “There are 110 ways to divide people but only one way to unite us: love.”

That was Dr. Jim Mahar’s message the night of Jan. 22 as he accepted St. Bonaventure University’s inaugural faculty/staff MLK Justice Award at the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at the University Chapel. Paul Nana Afful, Warming House manager, received the first student MLK Justice Award.

Mahar founded BonaResponds, a campus-based organization that continues today to do relief work locally, nationally and internationally, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago.

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“If there is one thing I’ve learned working with BonaResponds,” said Mahar, asking a student to stand up to show off the words on her T-shirt, “it’s that — ‘Tout moun se moun.’ That’s Creole for, ‘All people are people.’”

If they learn nothing else in their time at St. Bonaventure, Mahar said, “I hope our students learn to love and respect everyone.”

Nichole Gonzalez, dean of students and chair of the event’s planning committee, said Mahar was “a natural selection” to receive the award.

“There is truly no one who commits more of their time and energy in service of others while seeking no attention,” Gonzalez said. “Jim has inspired hundreds of students and alumni to take action in our local community, in communities across the country, and in poor and developing countries, to help restore both physical spaces and individual dignity. He does so not by asking or telling, but by doing it himself and being a person others want to follow.”

Afful, a native of Ghana, played soccer as an undergraduate at St. Bonaventure and returned after a brief coaching stint to pursue his MBA.

“Paul’s eagerness to learn along with his passion for caring for others has made him a warm, hard-working and caring presence at the Warming House,” said Alice Miller Nation, director of SBU’s Franciscan Center for Social Concern. “Each day, Paul greets the guests and volunteers by name as he models justice and mercy for many who are often ignored and not noticed by much of society. His commitment to the people of the Warming House is nothing short of amazing.”

The awards are designed to honor one faculty/staff member and one student who are leaders of social justice, committed to action and inspire action in others. Honorees must also embody the deeply Franciscan definition of justice, honoring the dignity that is due to each individual. King was committed not only to racial equity, but justice for the poor and other marginalized populations.

This year’s MLK Celebration was titled “What Does Justice Look Like?” and featured powerful performances from several members of the Chattertons Poetry Society — Akim Hudson, Marisol Woods, Dwight Coleman and Anahiz Rivera — and Sydney Best, president of SBU’s Black Student Union.

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