Year 13 student Hena Dugh of Hastings’ Girls High School has won the National Final of the Race Unity Speech Awards. Hena’s speech challenged us to recognise our common humanity, asking “If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you poison us, do we not die?”
The Race Unity Speech Awards is a nationwide forum for senior high school students to express their views on race relations in Aotearoa. Regional forums are held all over New Zealand, from Northland to Dunedin. The National Final featured the top six speakers from across the country, speaking on the topic “Give Nothing to Racism”.
Hena’s speech asked all New Zealanders to consider whether we will contribute to racism, or be part of the solution.
“Every day a fight is going on inside you. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. We all have a choice - whether to feed the wolf of compassion, peace and acceptance or the wolf of resentment and racism. So now, I ask you, which wolf will you feed?”
This year’s Speech Awards mark 20 years since the tragic passing of race relations advocate Hedi Moani. Hedi was a member of the Baha’i Faith, and this was a factor in the assault that led to his death. The New Zealand Baha’i Community established the Race Unity Speech Awards after his passing as a contribution to eliminating prejudice and bringing about unity.
The runner-up was Zoha Shuaib of Palmerston North Girls High School, who spoke about how we can go about eradicating racism from our country. “Aotearoa New Zealand is not a country free from racism; but, it is a country that has had a history of uniting against it, and that, I believe, is more powerful than if racism had never touched this great land in the first place.”
The New Zealand Police are the principal sponsors of the Speech Awards, and Superintendent Tusha Penny was the head judge at the National Final. Tusha said: “We always speak of people being tomorrow’s leaders but they’re leading today. Now we all have a responsibility to help them share their speech with others and continue having a voice. Like Zoha, said this year, we will keep speaking until there is nothing left to speak about.”
The other sponsors of the Speech Awards are the Human Rights Commission, represented on the judging panel by Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy; the Office of Ethnic Communities, represented by MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan; and the Hedi Moani Charitable Trust.
“All the students who took part in the Awards were incredibly impressive - not only in demonstrating their oratory skills but also showing that our young New Zealanders are leading the way when it comes to giving nothing to racism,” said Dame Susan Devoy.
The Speech Awards are also supported by Speech NZ and the New Zealand Federation of Multicultural Councils.