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Student Wins National Championship With Speech On NZ’s Divided Past, United Future

A student of Ngāti Kahungunu and Pākehā heritage has won a nationwide competition using her own identity as a metaphor for the past and future of race relations in New Zealand.

“Racism exists here,” said Jess Jenkins, a year 13 student at Tawa College.

Jess Jenkins - National Champion of the Race Unity Speech Awards 2020

“As a Māori with white skin, I don't experience it but it pains me that so many people who are close to me do. Just as my white ancestors fought my Māori ones, racism exists here. We must first face the blatant separation occurring within society today to secure our ideal racism-free future.”

The Race Unity Speech Awards give senior high school students a chance to express their views on race relations in Aotearoa. “Holding the Speech Awards online this year is a great opportunity to harness and amplify the potency of young people’s voices even more,” said Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha from the New Zealand Police.

“We’re very proud to be principal sponsors of the conduit that allows powerful race unity dialogue to continue, no matter what the platform.”

Jenkins’ speech also won her the NZ Baha’i Community Award for Insight. The Baha’i community – organiser of the speech competition since 2001 – established the Award for Insight this year to recognise a speaker who helps us understand the oneness of humanity.

“Jess distinguishes between our naive self-image as a unified society and the true unity we should be striving for,” says Huti Watson, the Baha’i representative on the judging panel.

“She helps us understand the necessity of justice for achieving true unity, reinforcing our hope that we can realise the oneness of humanity here in Aotearoa.”

Jenkins’ speech set out her vision for the future of race relations. “In 20 years from now, we must reach a place where we are all equal, a mutual agreement where every citizen is treated for their contributions, their achievements. … This is the future we need to envision.”

For the first time ever, the National Final of the Race Unity Speech Awards was streamed live on YouTube and Facebook. Journalist and TV presenter Miriama Kamo was the MC for the national final.

This year’s Speech Awards also celebrate of Youth Week (9-17 May), which has the theme “E kōrero ana mātou. E whakarongo ana koutou? | We’re speaking. Are you listening?”

Last year national finalist Takunda Muzondiwa’s speech 'Dear Racism' went viral, receiving over 1.5 million views.

About the Awards

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 Awards are sponsored by NZ Police (principal sponsor), the Human Rights Commission, the Office of Ethnic Communities, te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (Māori Language Commission), Speech New Zealand, the Hedi Moani Charitable Trust, Studio Marque and the Manukau Institute of Technology.

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