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Year 11 student wins national Race Unity Speech Awards

Year 11 student wins national Race Unity Speech Awards with speech about leaders who combat racism

Robbie White of New Plymouth Boys’ High School has won a nationwide competition with a speech citing examples of past and present New Zealand leaders who have helped to forge unity in Aotearoa.

Robbie used the metaphor of a tui building a nest to explain how to unify people of different backgrounds. Robbie asked “What is a tui? A leader, a march, a call, a movement, a word, an action, a stand, a physical structure, an event, the voice of unity, bringing people together with common purpose, understanding and connection. …I think of Te Whiti O Rongomai and Dame Whina Cooper.”

Robbie also recognised former New Plymouth Mayor Andrew Judd as a leader who has built racial unity: “On my doorstep, in my forest, Andrew Judd is also a tui. Once a self-proclaimed racist himself, …his ‘peace march’ stamped a monumental mark on race unity in the Taranaki region.”

Robbie White confidently wove te reo Māori into his speech. At the prizegiving, Chief Judge Wallace Hauhama, Deputy Commissioner of Police, joked that Robbie was from the Taranaki iwi Te Āti Awa because of Robbie’s excellent use of te reo Māori.

Zimbabwean New Zealander Takunda Muzondiwa of Mt. Albert Grammar School talked about internalised racism and her struggle to accept her natural hair due to society’s narrow concept of beauty. Takunda recited a poem she wrote about a recent incident where a man touched her hair on the train in Auckland without asking: “But luckily my hair, my hair speaks volumes. Tangled and twisted there are stories in these in curls. Stories of a mother, father stamped with a number marked as objects sold for property. Stories of my ancestors shackled in cages displayed in zoos the same way you stroke me like an exhibit in a petting zoo. It’s twisted and tangled there are stories in these curls. A beautiful possession of my history’s oppression.”

On Saturday 11 May the National Final of the Race Unity Speech Awards was held at Te Mahurehure Marae in Auckland, featuring the top six speakers from the 180 students who entered this year’s awards. The speech awards provide a nationwide platform for senior high school students to express their ideas on how we can improve race relations.

Participants this year again reflected New Zealand’s increasing diversity of more than 200 ethnicities and 100 plus languages. Speech finalists represented immigrant communities from the Philippines, Russia, Egypt and Samoa who now call Aotearoa home.

Responding to the Christchurch attack

In a letter earlier this week Prime Minister Ardern acknowledged all of the students who participated in the speech awards. “Following the tragic events in Christchurch, this year's Race Unity Speech Awards and Hui hold even greater significance. We need to think deeply and carefully about our country's rich and precious diversity, and what we need to do to remain an inclusive, multicultural country.”

Many of the speeches touched on New Zealanders’ response to the recent terrorist attack in Christchurch. Runner-up Nina Gelashvili of Kuranui College in Wairarapa said “It shouldn’t take 50 lives for us to finally realise that racism still lives in New Zealand and it shouldn’t take 50 lives for us to come together as one.”

The speech awards started with a poem and prayer by Zoha Shuaib, a young Muslim who was the National Runner-up at the 2018 speech awards. Zoha said: “You can send pigs to our mosques, rip off our hijabs from our heads, call us terrorist while you terrorise us, and we will still rise and greet you with ‘asalamaulaikum’: may peace be upon you.”

A National Race Unity Hui was held immediately before the national final of the Speech Awards, attended by nearly 100 students, young professionals and supportive adults. A youth statement on race relations is being drafted based on this hui, which will be published on Thursday 16 May 2019.

About the Race Unity Speech Awards and Hui

The Race Unity Speech Awards are organised by the New Zealand Baha’i Community[AM1] , a religious community concerned with promoting the oneness of humanity at the local, national and international levels. The Speech Awards are sponsored by NZ Police, the Human Rights Commission and the Hedi Moani Charitable Trust, and supported by Multicultural NZ, the Office of Ethnic Communities and Speech NZ.


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