MLK Model of Justice Award honorees explain passion for social justice

Niya Tandy's project for a class at St. Joseph's Academy was to design a plan of action to address an issue she feels passionately about.

Passion for issues comes easy for Tandy, who has a thirst for social justice. She is one of 39 students representing parishes and schools who will receive archdiocesan Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Model of Justice awards Sunday, Jan. 17.

Tandy chose the need for changes in Missouri's drug policy — giving harsh jail sentences to nonviolent users — as an issue that deserves attention. Changes, she believes, should redirect resources to help people with addictions and allow police and the courts to focus on violent criminals.

"So many people have been incarcerated," she said. "Our policies are not reducing the amount of drugs coming into the United States. Marijuana is more accessible to teens today than alcohol."

Because many inmates aren't assisted in adjusting from prison, they often end up returning to prison, Tandy noted.

A senior at St. Joseph's, she attended three public schools in the Maplewood-Richmond Heights district until eighth grade when her family moved. She then attended Marian Middle School, her first experience in a Catholic school, something she enjoyed. She also has developed a higher level of confidence, self-esteem and an ability to take on leadership positions.

A theology course her junior year helped propel her concerns for social justice. "It helps the common good. It helps people who are impoverished, people who are not as privileged as you and I are," she noted.

She's interested in studying sociology in college, a field she relates to her social justice concerns.

Seeking Understanding

Sangeeth John, a senior at Christian Brothers College High School, said doing charity work — something he's done extensively — needs to be accompanied by "putting yourself in the shoes of those who you are helping and see what affects them and puts them in that situation. We often just say, 'that's the way it is and you just have to accept it.' But a lot of times, they just don't have any control of the situation."

On a service trip to India, the Model of Justice honoree worked closely with people in need, learning about their experiences, and found it revealing of systems that perpetuate poverty.

For service hours at CBC, John worked with a YMCA summer camp program and at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. He also got a glimpse of poverty through CBC's 30-hour famine program. He became more involved in his church, St. Mary's Orthodox Church, and took a leadership role among church youth in promoting clothing and food donations. He participated in Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve (FOCUS), visiting a homeless shelter and the people there. John also served at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

"By actually engaging in conversation with these homeless people, I learned that poverty is not the fault of anyone, but sometimes just the circumstances that these people were put in," he wrote later. "It pained me to see how many genuine, good people have been afflicted by poverty."

Other students at CBC also have gone out of their comfort zones to learn about others, he said. "CBC really gives us a well-rounded approach — the world is not just confined to this city or country," he noted.

Dr. King's ideals stressed equality and solidarity, said John, who wants to become a physician. "We can't view ourselves as better people serving those who are lower than us. We are all on the same level." 

Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice

The 40th annual Archdiocesan Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice will be held at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, 4431 Lindell Blvd.

The celebration commemorates the birth and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and includes a reception and awards presentation for the 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Model of Justice honorees in Boland Hall next to the cathedral following Mass.

The Mass will be celebrated by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. Homilist is Father Arthur J. Cavitt, executive director of the St. Charles Lwanga Center.

The high school Model of Justice award winners are:

Sarahn Bastian, Barat Academy

Aaron Tucker, Bishop DuBourg

Brent Anderson, Cardinal Ritter College Prep

Julian Mitchell, Chaminade

Sangeeth John, CBC

Julie Gauthier, Cor Jesu

Ray Stewart, De Smet

Brittany Krafft, Duchesne

Jay'la Scott, Incarnate Word

Andrew Heyling, Kennedy

Claire Shroba, Nerinx

TySheyanna Montgomery, Notre Dame

Abigail Kenyon, Rosati-Kain

Kelsey Purdy, St. Dominic

Erica Huber, Borgia

John Brennan, Vianney

Niya Tandy, St. Joseph's Academy

Timothy Thompson Jr., Priory

Brendan Underwood, SLUH

Joshua Newhouse, St. Mary's

Levi Krauss, St. Vincent

Emily Mach, Trinity

Sarah Schlote, Ursuline

Sally Heil, Valle

Le Le Bell, Villa Duchesne

Claire Krummenacher, Visitation

The parish Model of Justice award winners are:

Allison Rupp, All Saints in St. Peters

Holly Radke, Assumption in O'Fallon

Gaelen Joseph, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Elise Nikolaisen, Incarnate Word

Danielle Farmer, Mary Mother of the Church

Rachel Fleischut, Mary Queen of Peace

Tamesha Wallace, Our Lady of the Holy Cross

Carolyn Vossenkemper, Sacred Heart in Troy

Temani Combs, St. Alphonsus Liguori

Dwayne J. Simmons, St. Elizabeth Mother of John the Baptist

Ally Dowling, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

Taylor Prince, St. Nicholas

William Rackers, St. Theodore. 

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