Speech Awards Mark 20 Years Since Tragic Passing

Press Release – New Zealand Baha’i Community

The tragic passing of race relations advocate Hedi Moani 20 years ago is being commemorated by high school students participating in the Race Unity Speech Awards.Senior high school students from around the country will come to Auckland on Saturday 12 May to participate in the National Final of the Speech Awards. “Hedi was passionate about race relations, oratory and youth, and Speech Awards combine these interests in a powerful way,” says Aidan MacLeod from the New Zealand Baha’i Community.

Hedi Moani was born in Iran and emigrated to New Zealand in 1982. Hedi was an active member of the Baha’i Faith, and Baha’is are persecuted for their beliefs in Iran. Hedi had a strong affinity with Maori people and culture, and developed a special relationship with the people of Rātana Pa.

In 1997, New Zealand media gave extensive coverage to a series of racially-motivated incidents aimed at non-Europeans, including verbal and physical assaults. Hedi was deeply concerned by these incidents and helped organise a “Unity in Diversity Rally” in Aotea Square, which eventually led to the establishment of Race Relations Day in 1999.

Hedi Moandi died in October 1998, just a few months before the first Race Relations Day was held in New Zealand. Sadly, Hedi’s faith as a Baha’i was a motivating factor in the assault that led to his death. “Hedi escaped religious persecution in Iran, and did his utmost to promote harmonious race relations in New Zealand,” said Aidan MacLeod from the New Zealand Baha’i Community. “It was tragic that prejudice played a role in his death, yet Hedi’s example has motivated many young New Zealanders to speak out against prejudice and to strive for unity.”

The New Zealand Baha’i Community established the Race Unity Speech Awards in 2001 as a contribution towards addressing prejudice. Since then, the Speech Awards have grown to include 13 regional forums across the country. The National Final of the Speech Awards on 12 May will bring together the top six speakers from around New Zealand. The Final will be held at Te Mahurehure Marae in Point Chevalier, Auckland, from 4:30pm until 9:30pm.

The Race Unity Conference will also be held on Saturday 12 May, immediately before the National Final of the Speech Awards. The aim of this conference is to provide a space where youth can push forward thinking about race relations in New Zealand. The keynote session for this year’s conference will be a dialogue between Rez Gardi (legal officer at the Human Rights Commission and Young New Zealander of the Year 2017) and academic Dr. Arama Rata on the topic of race, unity and justice. The conference will also include the preparation of a conference statement representing youth views on race relations, and workshops run by artists, educators and government officials. The conference runs from 9.30am – 4.00pm on Saturday 12 May at Te Mahurehure Marae.

The principal sponsors of the Race Unity Speech Awards and Conference are the New Zealand Police. Other sponsors include the Hedi Moani Charitable Trust, the Human Rights Commission and the Office of Ethnic Communities.

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