UC SANTA CRUZ—At a time when society has become so divided, bridging communities is more important than ever, says Tara Kemp, who helps select the recipient each year for the Tony Hill Memorial Award.
The award honors her father, his passion for social justice, and his capacity to address power imbalances in the community. It will be presented in February at the 32nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation, hosted by UC Santa Cruz. A committee will accept nominations through January 11.
Past recipients, of all walks of life, reflect the vision that was so much a part of Hill’s work until he died in 2007 at age 62. They are people who are committed to social and economic justice and to implementing innovative solutions in the community.
The selection committee is especially interested in young people who are committed to social and economic justice work, says Melanie Stern, Hill’s widow who serves on the committee along with Kemp, campus representatives, former award recipients, and longtime friends of Hill.
“The committee is really looking at those people in our community that have an intention to increase job opportunities,” Stern says. “Tony was very passionate about economic justices as well as social justice.”
Hill, who lived in New York in the early days of integration after Brown v. Board of Education, questioned power dynamics and encouraged others to do the same.
“That’s where we see the injustices – how people are using their power or abusing their power,” Stern says. “Our last recipient, Jacob (Martinez, founding executive director of Digital NEST), is a great example of an entrepreneur that has created opportunities for young people, who might not have had those opportunities, to learn new skills for the 21st century.”
Through the Digital NEST, Martinez provides technology, training, and support to Watsonville youth.
“It was a complete honor to be listed in the same sentence as Tony Hill,” Martinez said. “He’s had a tremendous impact on the community here and on the entire county.”
Another past recipient Gina Castaneda, a county juvenile probation officer and founding head coach with Aztecas Soccer Program, remembers participating in several of Hill’s social justice trainings.
“Just to see how passionate he was about the community and what he was doing really motivated me and helped me to continue on my path of creating change and opportunities,” she said.
Hill was one of the people to help establish the convocation back in 1985. He served on the speaker selection committee that draws national leaders each year to the local stage.
After he died, friends and colleagues on the committee felt his absence keenly and introduced the idea of the Tony Hill Community Service Award at the next convocation to honor his legacy. In 2009, then-Watsonville City Councilman Luis Alejo, now a California assemblyman, became the first recipient. Alejo was a perfect representative of a unifying bridge for a county that has experienced geographic and economic divisions.
Each year, the selection committee comes away proud of Santa Cruz and all the work people are doing to make it a more equitable place to live, Kemp says. “I’m also amazed at how many organizations we have in the community helping people.”
Award recipients receive $500 to donate to the charity of their choice.
“I know Tony’s really thrilled looking down,” Stern says. “His work continues. This is one way to honor that.”
Please submit nominations online: ucsc.edu/tonyhill to the UC Santa Cruz Special Events Office no later than Monday, January 11, 2016.
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