Winning students deliver strong message at the Race Unity Speech Awards

Winning students deliver strong message at the Race Unity Speech Awards

16 May 2023

Take care of our children
Take care of what they hear
Take care of what they see
Take care of what they feel
For how the children grow, so will be the shape of Aotearoa

Dame Whina Cooper’s words were the inspiration behind one of the two speeches presented at the annual Race Unity Speech Awards in May.

Maja Hassell (Year 13) and Charlie Etherington (Year 11) presented their speeches at the Waikato Competition after being invited by their teachers to enter.

The annual speech competition was initiated by the New Zealand Bahá’í community in 2001 in support of Race Relations Day and to develop future leaders of Aotearoa New Zealand. This year’s topic was ‘Awhihia te rito – Nurture the young’ with a request to focus on how to improve race relations in our country.

The duo delivered confident, persuasive, and passionate speeches. Maja, who was the overall winner of the competition, says, “Whakaitia te whakawhiu i te tangata. We must all work to reduce our potential to discriminate. We must listen to each other, learn from each other, and help each other. It is by nurturing the tamariki and ensuring to awhihia te rito, that Aotearoa can continue its journey towards racial unity.” She delivered a strong message against discrimination leaving no doubt in the listeners’ minds of how society can move forward. She says, “Discrimination does not care who, what, or why you are, so you don’t have to worry about being discriminated against by discrimination. Discrimination doesn't discriminate, and it is a pervasive issue that can harm anyone, anywhere, anytime… when curiosity shifts into prejudice, it becomes a problem. We should all aim to be curious, but never at the expense of someone else’s mana.”

The runner-up winner was Charlie. Using Dame Whina Cooper’s words as the base of his speech, he spoke about the metaphor of harakeke (flax) and how it is a symbol of possibilities with the new shoots- te rito at the centre. New shoots are embraced and protected by the gnarly old flax leaves – te awhi rito.

He says, “Unity and equality depend on the new shoots, for how the children grow, so will be the shape of Aotearoa.” His speech highlighted inequality in New Zealand and how racism can drastically influence the lives of young people. It concluded with solutions – particularly the importance of education. “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men".

The Race Unity Speech Awards have opened the way for students to share their vision for race unity and to help move the waka of humanity forward.

Maja will attend the National Semifinal competition in Auckland in June.