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Leaders Honored at 2010 Multicultural Awards Banquet

2010 Multicultural Awards and Scholarship Banquet

CHICAGO, IL (April 12, 2010) – Receiving the first Vernard Jones Award for Leadership Thursday night was a humbling moment for Ramona Gant because she had worked alongside the North Park Theological Seminary student who died suddenly in November of 2009.

“I do not take this lightly,” she said, following the Multicultural Awards and Scholarship Banquet. “I’m deeply honored.” Gant, a youth ministries major, will work as the city host of the Center for Student Missions in New York City following graduation.

Vernard Jones, 42, died of natural causes in November. While an undergraduate student at North Park University, he helped form the school’s Gospel Choir. He had returned to attend seminary, interning with University Ministries and serving as the Viking football team’s chaplain.

Velda Love, director of justice and intercultural learning, fought back tears as she announced that an annual award would be given in Jones’s honor.

During an inspiring evening, students were honored for their service locally and around the world to make a significant difference in the lives of others. Students were recognized for activities that included tutoring children at the nearby Hibbard Elementary School, forming a nonprofit organization to provide funding for orphanages in Ghana and elsewhere, advocating for the homeless, and furthering dialogue and understanding among fellow students.

Football player Herbert Obah was grateful for the standing ovation he received while accepting the Spiritual Leadership Award, but was quick to deflect the praise. “It was fulfilling to see that God’s people who gave me a standing ovation at the banquet were touched by Christ through me,” said Obah, who never missed a Friday night team chapel and frequently could be found praying with and for other students. “My wife Jeanetta has been a marvelous gift to me,” said Obah, who also is the father of two children. “She is an immense part of my success. I am blessed to have her support through the good and bad times.”

Junior Crystal Buffington was recognized for starting “Our Village, Our World,” a nonprofit that educates school children about world hunger and poverty through a series of community service projects and an after-school curriculum that focuses on philanthropy.

The work of the students and faculty recently led the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) to honor the school with the Robert and Susan Andringa Award for Advancing Racial Harmony.

Prior to the awards presentation, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, a leading intellectual among the hip hop generation, praised the audience of several hundred people, saying, “This is one of the most diverse events I have spoken at in years.”

The associate professor of education at Columbia University cautioned, however, against becoming complacent and self-satisfied. If justice is to be advanced, people must commit themselves to “deep listening” and “deep forms of remembrance,” he said.

Hill has worked with numerous programs to help youth and provides regular commentary for media outlets including NPR, Washington Post, Essence Magazine, and New York Times. He is currently a political contributor for Fox News Channel, where he appears regularly on programs such as “The O’Reilly Factor,” “Huckabee,” and “Hannity.” Prior to joining Fox News, Dr. Hill was a regular guest on CNN, MSNBC, and CourtTV.

Hill was critical, however, of “talking at each other” as the norm in much of the media and society. Listening to people with different viewpoints and experiences will be necessary for change. “Anybody can be a charismatic speaker,” Hill said. “This is easy. The challenge is to become a charismatic listener.”

Hill added, “Deep remembering also is critical.” That will mean celebrating all that has been accomplished as well as refusing to forget the painful moments. “There’s a commitment to remember the (good) things that happened that is only matched by our simultaneous commitment not to forget the difficult,” he said. “You are the generation of people who must never, ever, ever slip into the haste of nostalgia.”

He concluded by exhorting the students to look also to the future with a deep faith. “The thing that always has made America viable and valuable, the thing that has always sustained the most desperate and vulnerable of us, the thing that has always made this democratic experiment tick, has been the idea that in spite of the odds, no matter how bad things are, no matter how sensibly insurmountable a challenge is, we can beat it.”

He quoted theologian Howard Thurman, saying, “Never scale down your dreams to the level of that which is your immediate experience.” Hill added, “You have to be committed to seeing something bigger, better, and brighter.”

Noting the recent Easter celebration, Hill declared, “Part of the narrative of the resurrection is not just about Jesus. It’s about saying that nothing—even death—can tell us everything God has in store for us.”

The full list of award winners is:

Academic Excellence: Ahmad Jarrar and Rosa Baez
Service, City of Chicago: Adrian Battle
Service, World/International: Crystal Buffington
Campus Involvement and Collaboration: Bishara Kuttab and Jill Barker
Student Diversity Leadership: Joseph Williams and Karla Menendez
Cultural Advocacy: Luke Scandrett-Leatherman
Cultural Arts: Sarah Mateus
Athletic Excellence: Michelle Howard and Nick Williams
Spiritual Leadership: Herbert Obah and Tiffany Hines
Outstanding Graduate Student: Deyanira Cardenas
Outstanding Seminary Student: Ileana Garcia-Soto
Outstanding International Student: Suzie Liang
Outstanding Contribution to Diversity by Faculty: Mary Trujillo
Alumni Award: Gregory Crawford
Community Award: Casa Central and The Miracle Center
Staff and Faculty Award: Paul Johnson and Professor Don Wagner