2017 Human Relations Committee Annual Awards
Since 1983, MTA's Human Relations Committee has reviewed nominations and selected the recipients of the annual Human and Civil Rights Awards. The annual HCR Awards banquet, attended by educators from across the state, honors individuals and groups that have shown extraordinary dedication to civil rights and human relations. Honoring those who dedicate themselves to equality for all is a proud tradition of the MTA.
The awards will be presented on Friday, June 16, at the 35th annual Human and Civil Rights Awards celebration at the Four Points by Sheraton Norwood Hotel.
2016 MTA Human and Civil Rights Honorees
Louise Gaskins Lifetime Civil Rights Award recipient
State Representative Ellen Story
State Representative Ellen Story, now serving her 12th term, was the first woman to represent Amherst in the Legislature. Story is a member of House leadership, serving as Fourth Division chair, and she serves on the House Committee on Rules. Among her proudest accomplishments in the Legislature have been passage of so-called “buffer zone” legislation in 2000, which established a safe zone around people entering and exiting family planning facilities; the 2001 passage of “stuck kids” legislation, which tracked and provided solutions for children stuck in hospital beds when residential mental health placements were unavailable; and the 2010 creation of the Special Legislative Commission on Postpartum Depression, which she chairs.
Kathleen Roberts Creative Leadership Award recipients
Lois Ahrens is the founder of the Real Cost of Prisons Project. Since starting the project in 2000, Ahrens has been dedicated to defending the dignity and humanity of all prisoners, improving their lives and the lives of their families, and shining a light on the often unequal treatment accorded incarcerated women and people of color. Ahrens travels the state and the country to testify, advocate for and visit with prisoners. She has created a website, www.realcostofprisons.org, that receives more than 2,000 visits a day, as well as a Facebook page with more than 27,000 “likes.” She is honored to be the only non-formerly-incarcerated founding member of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Children.
Since his retirement more than 20 years ago, Fred Bommer has been a volunteer classroom assistant, making learning fun for students in the Barnstable Public Schools. Bommer is known for his word games and math puzzles. Over the years, students and staff have learned a lot from him — not only math, but history, perseverance, commitment and the value of giving back. Bommer fosters the development of his students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and with his year-end classroom talks about growing up in Holland during the German occupation, he fosters their global awareness and sense of empathy as well. After leaving his volunteer position in 2014, Bommer decided he missed his students and returned to teaching one day a week this year.
Rosemary “Betsy” Sawyer
Betsy Sawyer may have been committed to only one thing more than her fifth-graders at Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School — and that thing was world peace. With her after-school creative writing group, Sawyer found an outlet for her commitment and creativity. The result was the Big Book: Pages for Peace, the biggest book in the world on the subject of peace. The book weighs more than a ton and is 12 feet long and 10 feet wide, with more than 500 double-sided pages. The goal of the group was for the Big Book to travel the world. In 2014, the project was unveiled at the John F. Kennedy Library, and in March 2016, the book was presented at the United Nations.