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Hate Studies Institute names two recipients for 2012 ‘Take Action Against Hate’ awards

Gonzaga University’s Institute for Hate Studies will honor the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations (KCTFHR) and the Rev. Happy Watkins, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church during its fourth annual Take Action Against Hate Banquet at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 16, at Cataldo Hall on campus.

Each year, the Institute for Hate Studies presents the Eva Lassman Take Action Against Hate Awards to an organization and an individual in the Inland Northwest to recognize those committed to challenging hatred wherever and however it manifests. 

This year’s banquet theme, “Transformations,” echoes Gonzaga University’s 125th anniversary theme, “Tradition and Transformation.”

Awardees are leaders in the effort to transform the region to be a community committed to human rights and justice for all.

 “When I first met Happy, he shared a favorite phrase about social justice leadership,” said John Shuford, director of the Institute for Hate Studies. “‘You have to work to make a difference, wherever a difference can be made, until ‘making a difference’ doesn’t make a difference any more.”

Both Happy and the Kootenai County Task Force have been making a difference for decades, and continue to do so not just in the region but anywhere a difference can be made, John said.

Known for delivering his own stirring renditions of the “I Have a Dream” speech at the Spokane Martin Luther King Jr. Day March and elsewhere, Happy told media, civic leaders, educators, children and others after the 2011 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day March bombing attempt that Spokane acts against hate and strives to fulfill Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community. 

Along with his collaborator Ivan Bush, Happy helped lead efforts to establish Spokane’s Martin Luther King Jr. Way. They also work to improve the region’s correctional system, police departments, school districts and youth programs.

Happy serves many organizations to bring reconciliation and understanding among churches, faiths, social groups and individuals of all backgrounds. 

Formed in 1981 as a volunteer organization, the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations has a long, diverse history of “making a difference” by combating hateful activities and messages, promoting human and civil rights, and building communities dedicated to safety, welcome, inclusion and peace. 

More than a decade ago, it effectively opposed the now-defunct Aryan Nations organization and operations in Northern Idaho. 

Since then, the task force has propelled many enduring transformations in civic and educational resources, community improvements and celebratory events. 

It helped create the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d’Alene and a peace park on the former Aryan Nations Compound site. 

In addition, it holds an annual Human Rights Banquet and continues to lead by providing advocacy and support against hate crimes and lending technical consulting services to schools and communities on human rights issues.

The featured speaker at Gonzaga’s Take Action Against Hate Banquet is Ven. Geshe Thupten Phelgye, the University’s visiting scholar and global peace activist.  Geshe la, as he is affectionately known, is the founder of the Universal Compassion Movement.  He was a student of the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) and he served for many years as a member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile. 

The program also includes a performance of “Eva’s Song,” the poetic remembrance of Eva Lassman, read by author Michael Gurian accompanied on cello by Vicki Strauss.

Eva, a Holocaust survivor and a community educator on the Holocaust, human rights, challenging hatred and standing for others, received the inaugural Take Action Against Hate Award in 2009.  For more than five decades, she stood as both witness and advocate for human dignity, respect and perseverance. 

 “For many of us, she was and remains ‘our own Elie Wiesel’,” said John, alluding to the Nobel laureate political activist, educator and author. 

She was a member of the institute’s advisory board and received an honorary doctorate of laws from Gonzaga University School of Law in 2002.  She passed away in February 2011 just shy of her 92nd birthday.

Banquet attendees will be invited to donate to help endow the Eva Lassman Memorial Fund at Gonzaga University.  When it reaches the endowment threshold, the fund will support an annual Eva Lassman Student Award for undergraduates to work with the institute on projects that combine research, education and leadership to continue her legacy of “combating hatred, promoting tolerance and respect, and advancing peace and human rights.”

Banquet proceeds support activities of the Institute for Hate Studies.  Doors open at 5:45 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m.; the formal program starts at 7 p.m.

For information, call 313-3665, email hatestudies@gonzaga.edu or visit  https://commerce.cashnet.com/GIHS.