The city of Davis will recognize the winners of this year’s Thong Hy Huynh Awards at the May 15 City Council meeting. The city’s Human Relations Commission presents the annual awards as a tribute to Thong Hy Huynh, who was murdered in a racially motivated stabbing at Davis High School on May 4, 1983.
“The Thong Hy Huynh Award honors community members whose actions exemplify the goals of diversity, community, social justice and equal rights,” Mayor Robb Davis said. “The City Council, along with the Human Relations Commission, is looking forward to honoring this year’s recipients, whose passion and work continues to move us toward bettering the Davis community.”
The council will recognize recipients in four categories at the May 15 meeting, which will begin at 6 p.m. Winners of the Thong Hy Huynh Awards are listed on the City’s Perpetual Plaque, which hangs in the Community Chambers building.
The recipients, are as follows:
Lifetime Achievement: Gwyneth Bruch
Bruch has been a teacher at DSHS for over 20 years, for courses as diverse as Beginning and Advanced Drama and Science Fiction, and has directed the Drama Department, putting on several productions each year, directly affecting thousands of students and community members. Additionally, Ms. Bruch for many years has also been one of the adult advisors and the classroom host for the Black Student Union, which meets weekly.
In her work she embodies a deep respect and abiding enthusiasm for young people, using theatrical production to elevate issues of social justice and the power of young people to address them. When several incidents of hate occurred on the DHS campus this fall, Bruch announced that she would be looking for a spring production that would help the community understand and process events that are both well understood and difficult to reconcile.
Bruch embodies so much of what the Thong Hy Huynh Award is intended for: an abiding personal and professional commitment to justice and civil rights, ongoing efforts to use the powers of an institution to open and change people’s minds, and the warmth of personal relationships to model the way things could be.
Civil Rights Advocacy: Wendi Counta
For more than 20 years, Counta has been working with children in the Davis community. Since 2012, she has served as the executive director of Progress Ranch. This program serves 8-to-14-year-old boys needing a temporary home. Counta works to provide a home-like rather than institutional environment and includes mental health professional assistance to help the boys grow and mature despite the difficult circumstances they have gone through.
The importance of advocating for them is paramount for Wendi as is evident in the passion and commitment she brings to her work. She understands that the meaning of social justice is providing access to opportunity for all. Her advocacy for keeping children that would be bound for the school to prison pipeline does not end at the end of her workday.
She is always available and invested in finding ways to extend dignity and inclusion to this segment of our community. She makes sure that the goal of helping the boys put roots down in the community is reached. Many of them play in local sports programs — like AYSO soccer and Junior Blue Devils football — participate in city of Davis camps and attend Davis public schools. Most importantly, she understands that advocating for true inclusion in our community means calling out discrimination against these children when it is needed.
Excellence in Community Involvement: Rabbi Greg Wolfe
Wolfe has been an interfaith leader in the Davis community for more than 20 years and through that time has positively influenced many people. As a man of faith and as a community leader for his congregation of 260 families, he moves and inspires others to engage in mutual understanding.
Rabbi Greg said “there’s very little you can accomplish on your own. A lot of things really take a village.” Under his leadership, his synagogue has raised money for refugees of the Sudanese war. He recently joined a coalition called Sacramento Act, which empowers individuals to address issues of racial and social injustice.
He is also part of an interfaith environmental justice group and has done work with the Phoenix Coalition. Rabbi Greg is currently participating in the YES (Youth Exchange and Study) Program, which is run by Congress and was established in 2002 in response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The program provides scholarships to youths, aged 15-18, from predominantly Muslim countries, to live in the U.S. for a year.
Wolfe was one of the original founders of the Celebration of Abraham, a get-together held annually by local leaders in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities. The event is lauded as a bridge-builder and community-builder for people of the Abrahamic faiths
After a local Islamic leader made anti-semitic comments in a sermon, Wolfe reached out and engaged in authentic dialogue about the incident. Reaching out; sharing in understanding; building understanding; standing up for people — that is who Wolfe is.
Young Humanitarian: Student Solidarity Task Force
This group of students formed in the fall of 2017 in response to the incidents of hate and discrimination targeting Black, Jewish and LGBTQ people at the high school. The members of the group initially represented the Black Student Union, the Jewish Student Union and the Genders and Sexualities Alliance. The group now includes students from other racial and ethnic constituencies as well.
Very concerned that students and staff are unaware of the micro- and macro aggressions that students on non-dominant groups experience on a regular basis as part of their schooling, members of the SSTF have volunteered to present panels in six different venues. On these panels they have spoken about both what has helped them feel like they belong in educational spaces, what has made them feel excluded, and about potential changes and learning staff and students can do.
Additionally, In order to educate their fellow students — those who are unaware of the difficulties students targeted by oppressions face at school — the SSTF is working on assembling a playlist of short, 1-2 minute stories that they record representing actual experiences of diverse students on campus.
The students of the SSTF embody some of the best of this generation: a sense of responsibility based on personal experience and universal well-being, and an approach to change that insists that our capacity to listen to all voices and perspectives directly affects our ability to solve the problems of the present and the future.