December 13, 2013 in City

Awards recognize local efforts on betterment of human rights

By The Spokesman-Review

Ancilla & Knights of the Leash; Austin Johnson; Francis Adewale; John Olsen; Loerelei Kalua; NAACP; NATIVE Project; PACE Services/SEER Program; Neil Kempen; Purnima Karki; Randy Shaw; and Rick Bocook.

For Spokane’s Human Rights Commission, choosing honorees for the first of what the organization hopes will be annual diversity awards meant winnowing decades of work into snapshots.

“Some of these seemed to be almost lifetime achievement awards,” Mayor David Condon said Thursday morning before a crowd of about 40 people, including 12 nominees in three categories.

The timing of the occasion, with the recent death of former South African President Nelson Mandela, was not lost on attendees.

“He was probably the height of human rights,” said James Wilburn, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, who accepted the award for organizations on his group’s behalf.

Lisa Rosier, chairwoman of the commission, announced the winners before they were handed crystal flame-shaped trophies inset with a red, white and blue pattern. They were:

Purnima Karki, 17, who received the award for individuals under age 21. Karki, a North Central High School student who immigrated to America from a refugee camp in Nepal, works with her fellow expatriates as an interpreter and helps them assimilate.

“It means so much,” said Karki, who moved to the U.S. in October 2009.

Francis Adewale, who received the award for individuals over 21. Adewale embraced Condon in a bear hug when his name was announced. A native of Nigeria, Adewale is an assistant public defender with the city and was an instructor at a Spokane Falls Community College event teaching immigrants the basics of state law.

The Spokane chapter of the NAACP earned the award for organizations. Founded in 1917, this branch of the national group organizes events in the community to shed light on the issues facing the city’s black population.

“This is like a shot in the arm, a booster shot,” said Wilburn. “It shows that your work is not in vain.”

Funding for the trophies was provided by the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Rights, which has been hosting its own banquet honoring members of the community for several years.

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