Awards honor going beyond the job for U

by Elena Rozwadowski

Since 1997 the Josie R. Johnson Human Rights and Social Justice Award has recognized students, faculty and staff members for their dedication to making the University a better place.

The recipients of the award are those who go above and beyond the expectations of their everyday jobs, said Sue Hancock of the Office of Multicultural and Academic Affairs.

“There are so many individuals who continue to do the important work that people just don’t know about,” Hancock said. “That work has tentacles that reach out beyond the campus community.”

This year the award was given to nontraditional student Ora Hokes and residence hall coordinator Grant Anderson for their social justice work that went “beyond the job.”

Ora Hokes

As a child of the segregated South, Hokes has dedicated her adult life to promoting equal opportunity for the black community.

“I know what it feels like for an entire group of people to have their human and social rights denied,” she said. “Moving here, I saw what we didn’t have and what we had to fight for.”

Hokes works closely with the Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis to promote change in her area and to set an example for others.

“Within our community, our work and our word flows from the church back to the people,” she said.

Most of Hokes’ work is in increasing awareness about health concerns that affect blacks.

For example, Hokes had exercise machines and scales put in her church to work toward the prevention of cardiovascular disease, obesity and juvenile diabetes, all of which are major health concerns in the community.

“Health is wealth,” she said. “You can be rich, but you can’t enjoy your money if you’re sick.”

Outside her work with health issues, Hokes also has spent a lot of time helping “Americanize” families from different countries and cultures, she said.

“You have to know the culture that you’re working with,” she said. Hokes tried to communicate with families and school officials to make the transition into a new culture easier for those that had just moved here.

At the University Hokes is seeking a license in parent education that would allow her to work closely with families in Minneapolis to prepare children for their entrance into the public school system.

“I need to be equipped to help the community,” she said.

Above all, Hokes said, she wants to see strength in her community.

“I want my community to be healthy, not only physically, but mentally and spiritually as well,” she said. “If we don’t do it, it won’t get done, and we can’t wait for someone else to do it.”

Grant Anderson

Those who know and have worked with Anderson said he is someone who puts a lot of extra time into the things he does.

In his three years at the University Anderson has been chairman for the Coalition for a Respectful U, helped develop the Multicultural Student Leadership Retreat and has started to organize a “bias response team” that will reach out to people affected by bias on campus.

“I love the fact that I get to empower others to change the campus,” Anderson said. “It’s really the work of countless students, faculty and staff that make these things happen.”

Jerie Smith, who is one of the people who nominated Anderson, said she first noticed his energy and determination.

“I was really impressed by the passion he has for social justice without having been here for very long,” she said.

Smith described Anderson as very “unassuming” but “determined to make things happen.”

“He just doesn’t allow things that don’t matter to get in the way,” she said.

Students also have been affected by Anderson’s efforts. Kristin Swartz, a global studies sophomore, said her perspective on life changed after she went to one of the leadership retreats in November.

“(Anderson) realizes that his background as a Caucasian male gives him power,” Swartz said. “He is going to use that power to promote change on campus.”

Anderson said he doesn’t often see himself as a leader, but as a supporter of the changes he and his colleagues are trying to make.

“There are people out there that have done far more work and that deserve (the award) as much or more than I do,” he said.