NCCJ is super excited to announce the 2012 Youth Human Relations Award Winner: Sophia Dzialo. Each year NCCJ celebrates one youth leader from Connecticut and one from Massachusetts who has shown significant achievement in creating communities free of bias and bigotry. Sophia is 17 years old, a senior at Hall High School, has shown determination, resilience, responsibility, and dedication towards carrying the mission of NCCJ into her community ever since her first experience at Camp ANYTOWN in 2009. She is a quiet, yet a powerful leader; eagerly committing herself to causes she cares about and wants her community to care about also. A vegan because of her love for animals, a strong supporter of women’s rights, and an ally for the rights of other oppressed groups most don’t think about, Sophia is a compassionate young leader who will surely make waves of change in the future.
As one of the key leaders of Hall High School’s ACTION Club, Sophia has dedicated herself to various projects, often taking on multiple responsibilities to ensure every projects success. She volunteers for every opportunity her school has that speaks to community building, prejudice reduction, increasing awareness about an issue, and bringing people together in common causes.
Over the last three years, Sophia has been a counselor at ANYTOWN four times, co-facilitated workshops on gender, racism, and dating violence to groups of women at various middle and high schools across Hartford, worked with an organization to fight for the rights and respect for Native Americans, served as a youth leader for The YES! Campaign, fought to get fair trade products sold in her school, ran awareness campaigns to the plight of political prisoners and child soldiers through petitions, organized a school-wide pep rally with limited resources, and spearheaded her schools involvement in the Day of Silence. Through all of her extracurricular activities, Sophia remains strong academically and continues to inspire others by being a role model for the values she believes in.
NCCJ: What is your motivation to be so involved in change at your school? Why do you care about the projects you’ve invested so much time and energy in?
Sophia: I think that it is hard to say there is one motivation to get involved, I think that it definitely has been rooted to my experience at ANYTOWN. Knowing that it is possible to create such a safe environment has certainly pushed me to bring that experience into my community. Also, having such a supportive group of friends who I have worked with on everything certainly motivates you to continue. I can’t describe how I care, other than I just can’t imagine not caring about the people who are affected by the issues that I have dealt with. When you hear about the experiences that people go through, for example on reservations, it’s hard not to care. I would never want to be in their situation, and I hope that if the situations were reversed someone would care about me too.
NCCJ: One of the projects you worked was educating your school community about Native American Reservations. Why was this issue important to you?
Sophia: It started off with a comment made in one of our school newspapers about a similar relocation between super fans moving on a stadium and Native American’s being moved to Reservations. I wasn’t involved or even aware of the circumstances of reservations but I had known that the comparison wasn’t fair. In response, I worked with others to really research Reservations and the conditions there. I never would have imagined the horrific information that we learned. After hearing about the violence, abuse and neglect that have been demonstrated on the Reservations it is hard to forget about it. It has been shown that they are almost a forgotten race, and we couldn’t let that continue. It’s important me to pay attention to an issue that isn’t being talked about.
NCCJ: Sounds like empathy is often a first step to change. Would you say that’s correct?
Sophia: I can only speak for myself; however I think that for most others as well, empathy is the first step. It’s hard to make a change for something that you don’t fully understand or just can’t connect with. However, when I learn about a cause and then try to understand beyond just the facts I feel like I will be more motivated and dedicated to making that change.
NCCJ: You’re very right. What advice would you give to other young leaders who want to make change?
Sophia: I think that is a difficult question to answer. I would definitely say that committing yourself to an issue that is important to yourself or really research what you want to take a stand for. If you are working to change something that you can’t fully connect with, and then you aren’t going to enjoy making a change. Also, working with others that care about the issue is the most important thing. You can’t always do everything, which is the most important thing. Being able to rely on others really helps.
Join us in congratulating Sophia and celebrate her successes at the 2012 NCCJ Human Relations Award Banquet on April 26, 2012.