Stevanie Rhim, a senior at David Brearley High School in Kenilworth, NJ, has been named the recipient of the 2020 Marc Wesley Hardy Human Rights Award by First Congregational Church of Westfield. The award is given annually to a young person who has been an outstanding advocate for social justice, human rights and the rights of the less fortunate—three things that were of major importance to Marc in his life.

Stevanie resides in Plainfield, NJ, and was selected by the Union County Choice Program to attend high school in Kenilworth. Upon arriving at DBHS, Stevanie joined the Race Matters Alliance, where students and faculty come together to speak about race at the school. At her very first meeting, Stevanie made an impression with her mature observations, innovative ideas, and belief that young people can have productive discussions about difficult subjects that are of importance to them. She soon began leading the group to expand the conversation to include all races and ethnicities. 

In addition, Stevanie assembled a full cross-section of Brearley students to discuss their awareness of and feelings about race relations and human rights in today’s society, and enlisted the school’s technology instructor to videotape the interviews. The new series, entitled “Conversation Matters,” has been posted on YouTube with over 1,000 views. To further expand the reach of the series, Kenilworth School District Superintendent Kyle Arlington has promoted the show and added a direct link to the videos on the school website. “Conversation Matters” has also recently been used for faculty professional development.

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Stevanie was recently honored with the school district’s prestigious “Student Spotlight Award” for helping to change the face of social justice awareness at the school. The New Jersey State Senate awarded her with a proclamation for her initiatives to “empower and engage youth,” and she received a Humanitarian Award from the Plainfield school district. 

“Receiving this award reminds me that the work I am doing in human rights is worth it. Even when it seems so difficult, and when it seems like it can’t be done, it is organizations like this that encourage students to keep moving and keep pushing because of how important it is to fight for one another and what is right,” Stevanie stated at her award presentation. “I don’t feel like I am doing anything unique; I am just doing exactly what God has created me to do.”

District art instructor and advisor of the Race Matters Alliance, Janice Marsili states, “Stevanie has a calm but determined demeanor that inspires trust from everyone that she deals with… she leads by example, treating even those who stand in her way with understanding and compassion. She is a force for change, while at the same time, a source of calm and assurance.”

Recently, Stevanie has further expanded this philosophy to include a second offshoot of the Race Matters Alliance that she has named Community Matters. By forging a partnership with the school’s Bears that Care charitable organization, she has spearheaded the collection of items for children in need.

In addition to the many initiatives in which she is involved at David Brearley High School, Stevanie serves on various boards and committees in Plainfield, and was Master of Ceremonies at this year’s Plainfield Black History Month celebration.

“It is easy to forget that she is still in high school.” Says Marsili. “I cannot wait to see the ways in which she contributes to the social justice movement at her college community and beyond.” 

When asked what she has put into motion to ensure that her crucial work at DBHS will continue, Stevanie stated that they are actively searching for a new host for “Conversation Matters,” and she is developing a game for all ages—“something of a conversation starter centered around human and race relations that can be used in the classroom and not just on the screen.”

The Marc Wesley Hardy Human Rights Awards was created in memory of Marc Hardy, an active member of First Congregational Church. A talented performer and promising young student, Marc lost his life in a car accident in his senior year at Westfield High School in 1990. The award was created to honor his budding legacy.

Stevanie received a scholarship and certificate from the Board of Outreach Ministries at First Congregational Church of Westfield during a virtual presentation on Sunday, April 26, via a private Zoom meeting. The Hardy family was represented at the meeting by Marc’s mother, Delores Hardy, and his sister Kristal Hardy-Ali, who sang an inspiring rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Stevanie most certainly embodies the attitudes and principles that Marc personified in his life.

“Thank you for keeping Marc’s spirit alive,” Kristel expressed to Stevanie in her closing remarks.

The full presentation can be viewed on the FCC Facebook page, or by clicking here.

First Congregational Church of Westfield, a member of the United Church of Christ, is a spiritual community with a long and rich history of encouraging freedom of thought and a strong commitment to supporting and serving those who are socially and economically disadvantaged. In all aspects of its life and mission, FCC welcomes and affirms people of every race, age, gender, marital circumstance, sexual orientation and expression, physical or psychological ability, economic condition, ethnic origin, and theological tradition.

FCC is a congregation of open-minded and big-hearted people who have discovered the freedom and joy a Christian spiritual life offers—parents, singles, teens, children, and seniors who strive daily to live out that life in their varied walks of life. As a member of the United Church of Christ, the community at FCC comes from an unusually broad mix of denominational backgrounds, including Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Quaker, and even no faith background at all.

First Congregational Church is located at 125 Elmer Street in Westfield. For more information on this award and all of the youth and adult programs First Congregational Church of Westfield, visit fccofwestfield.org.