PATERSON, NJ- Voices, spirits and visions of a stronger Paterson, built by its younger residents, were lifted up on Monday as the Paterson Youth Council (PYC) held their 12th annual Youth Recognition Awards in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The teachings, if not the words, of King were evident throughout the event as speakers reminded those in attendance that it was through tolerance, inclusiveness, and non-violence that the civil rights leader attempted to move our nation past the scourges of segregation and discrimination and ultimately achieve the signing of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.
NJCDC Founder and CEO Bob Guarasci suggested that while “our nation seems more fractured than ever,” and the national dialogue ss “overly harsh,” the United States still holds “lots of room for different and divergent views.” His hope, Guarasci told the crowd, was that the teachings of King would motivate everyone in the room “to do more.”
Paterson Mayor Jane Williams-Warren led a contingent of elected officials in attendance at the event, reminding the room of when King visited Paterson just weeks before his death in 1968 and brought with him a “dream for our city.” It’s that dream the mayor challenged all in the room to leave with, “more determined to make the city a better place by embracing each other.”
While Guarasci would stop several times throughout the proceedings to recognize additional dignitaries including Congressman Bill Pascrell, Senator Nellie Pou, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, newly appointed Paterson Acting Police Chief Troy Oswald, Paterson Schools Acting Superintendent Eileen Shafer, as well as several members of the City Council and Board of Education, it was the members of the PYC, and the honorees they selected, that would garner the most attention.
Sharif Hassan, 16, a student at PCTI and the President of the PYC told TAPinto Paterson that in selecting the winners they sought those that had “qualities that represent Dr. King.” He believed that it was the volunteer hours that each of the awardees have put in, their desire to “go beyond for their community” that set them above the other worthy candidates.
Hassan, who hopes to become a surgeon and play a leading role in a hospital setting, believes that for his city “the future is bright.” The much celebrated diversity, Hassan said, is a positive attribute and one that should make Paterson “the greatest because of the different sets of abilities” that come out of each of the communities.
Calling him a “long time champion of Paterson’s youth,” Board of Education Commissioner Dr. Christopher Irving was the first of the honorees to be brought to the front of the room, using his time to address the young people directly, telling them to do “what motivates them,” and to always be proud of being from Paterson, something he said, is the “most important part of (his) bio.”
Peter Thornton, CEO, Boys & Girls Club of Paterson and Passaic was the Adult Award Recipient while Paterson based non-profit Oasis- A Haven for Women and Children, received recognition as the Organization recipient.
In accepting the award on behalf of Oasis Kathleen Long, Director of Development, quoted King when he, after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, said that he had “the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”
It is this belief, Long said, that is shared by the staff and volunteers at Oasis who treat every person they serve with dignity, encouraging them to “create futures of their own choosing.”
The four youth honorees were:
Treyvon Watson, a 7th grade student at the Young Men’s Leadership Academy, where he has a 3.9 GPA. Watson is, according to his nominator, Vernon Martin, “a student like Martin Luther King Jr., with a strong dedication to excellence and good character.” Martin continued that Watson is “a role model, not only to his younger brothers but to the other underclassmen as well.” While not yet a high school student, Martin has already visited Morgan State University and, upon his return, presented to his fellow students on the importance of studying and earning good grades to get into college, and has done a presentation to parents of first generation college students on the type of funding and scholarships that are available.
Jonathan Saldarriaga, is an 8th grade student at Norman S. Weir School (NSW), where he maintains a 4.0 GPA, is a member of the National Junior Honor Society, and has helped organize and participated in the Making Strides Breast Cancer Awareness Walk, collected pennies for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Association, raised money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and helped assist in the toy giveaway for children in need at the Holiday Dinner for the Needy at Eastside High School. Saldarriaga is President of the NSW Student Council and also serves on the Superintendent’s Roundtable with Middle Schools. His nominator, and Language Arts and Social Studies teacher, Wendy Cox, said that “Jonathan is a young man who displays an already well-developed sense of community. Dr. King was compassionate towards his fellow man and so is Jonathan. He is always striving to be the best person possible, and believes that if you give back to people, it gives them a chance for a better future.”
Ishmam Chowdhury is a 12th grade honor student at STEM Academy at John F. Kennedy High School, where she has a 4.43 GPA. She is Vice President of the Rutgers and STEM Academy’s Society of Minority Engineering, and Vice President of the National Honor Society. In addition to her academic achievements, Ishmam volunteers at countless community service events in Paterson, including the city’s Clean Communities Event, the Paterson Library Reading Celebration Event, and the Paterson Family and Community Engagement Conference. According to her nominator, Gilman Choudhury, the Founder of JFK’s College Ready program, “Ishmam’s heart is fully with the needs of the community. Her mindset is not on making herself look better, but serving those who are in need. With that ability, Ishmam is seen in the school community universally as a person who really cares.”
Jannatul Mummi is a 12th grade honor student at John F. Kennedy High School, where she maintains a 4.22 GPA. She is a member of the JFK Robotics and College Prep Team, the College Ready Mentorship Program Team, the Student Government Association, and has participated in the Bangladeshi American Youth Association. Mummi, who has set a goal of interning with NASA, has already participated in enrichment programs at Passaic County Community College, Felician University, Rutgers University, and Fairleigh Dickinson University. Gilman Choudhury, who also nominated Mummi, said that she “gives it all. Her honest heart keeps her focus on building a better world. This may be why she wants to be an Astronaut for NASA. She wants to bring the very best of humanity to the stars.”
As the event drew to a close and adults scrambled to have their photos taken with the honorees it was perhaps Saldarriaga who summed up the award best by saying that it was only “one stop” in his efforts to keep serving the community, to make those who chose him know that picking him was “worth it.” The young man who hopes to attend MIT and pursue studies in Mechanical Engineering, has his own dream to “make the world a better place.”