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Gonzaga U. Institute for Hate Studies to Present Eva Lassman Take Action Against Hate Awards Oct. 16

Posted on July 25, 2012 in: Academics

The bell at Saint Aloysius rings as the sun rises over the campus.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Gonzaga University Institute for Hate Studies will honor the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations (KCTFHR) of Coeur d’Alene and Rev. Percy “Happy” Watkins, pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church of Spokane, at its fourth annual Take Action Against Hate Banquet.  This year’s Banquet is scheduled for Tuesday, October 16, 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the Globe Room, Cataldo Hall, on the Gonzaga University campus.  Doors open at 5:45 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m.; the formal program starts at 7 p.m.

Each year, the Institute for Hate Studies presents the Eva Lassman Take Action Against Hate Awards to an individual and an organization in the Inland Northwest.  The Awards specially recognize those who have committed themselves to challenging hatred wherever and however it manifests.  This year’s Banquet theme, “Transformations,” echoes Gonzaga University’s 125th Anniversary theme “Tradition and Transformation,” and the 2012 Awardees are longtime leaders in the effort to transform the Inland Northwest as a community committed to human rights and justice for all.

“When I first met Happy (Rev. Watkins), he shared a favorite phrase about social justice leadership,” said Institute for Hate Studies Director John Shuford.  “‘You have to work to make a difference, wherever a difference can be made, until ‘making a difference’ doesn’t make a difference anymore.’  Both Rev. Watkins and the Kootenai County Task Force have been making a difference for decades, and continue to do so not just in our region but anywhere a difference can be made.”

Perhaps known best for delivering his own stirring renditions of the “I Have a Dream” speech at the Spokane Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade and elsewhere, Rev. Watkins lives the “make a difference” mantra in many other ways.  After the 2011 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day March bombing attempt, he addressed regional and national media outlets, civic and political leaders, educators and children, and others on the message that Spokane takes action against hate and strives to fulfill Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community.  Rev. Watkins and collaborator Ivan Bush led efforts for the naming and dedication of Spokane’s Martin Luther King Jr. Way, for which Spokane Mayor David Condon presented them in May 2012 with the keys to the City.  Rev. Watkins also works to improve the region’s correctional system, police departments, school districts, and youth programs, and he serves many organizations to bring reconciliation and understanding among churches, faiths, social groups, and individuals of all backgrounds.

Formed in 1981 as an all-volunteer organization, the KCTFHR also has a long, diverse history of “making a difference” by combating hateful activities and messages, promoting human and civil rights, and building communities dedicated to safety, welcome, inclusion, and peace.  More than a decade ago, the Task Force worked effectively to oppose the now-defunct Aryan Nations organization and operations in Northern Idaho.  Since then, the Task Force has propelled many enduring transformations, especially in the areas of civic and educational resources, community improvements, and celebratory events.  The Task Force helped create the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d’Alene and a public peace park where the Aryan Nations Compound once stood, and it organizes and hosts an Annual Gala and a Human Rights Banquet.  The KCTFHR also continues to lead in other ways, such as providing advocacy and support against hate crimes and lending technical consulting services to schools and communities on human rights issues.

The featured speaker at Gonzaga’s Take Action Against Hate Banquet is Ven. Geshe Thupten Phelgye, the University’s visiting scholar and global peace activist.  Geshe la, as he is affectionately known, is the founder of the Universal Compassion Movement.  He was a student of the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) and he served for many years as a member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile.

The Banquet program also includes a performance of “Eva’s Song,” the poetic remembrance of Eva Lassman, read by its author Michael Gurian with cellist Vicki Strauss providing accompaniment.  Lassman, herself a Holocaust survivor and a long-time community educator on the Holocaust, human rights, challenging hatred, and standing for others, received the inaugural Take Action Against Hate Award in 2009.  For more than five decades, Lassman stood as both witness and advocate for human dignity, respect, and perseverance.

“For many of us, she was and remains ‘our own Elie Wiesel’,” said Shuford, alluding to the Nobel laureate political activist, educator, and author of five dozen books.  Lassman, who was a member of the Institute’s advisory board, received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Gonzaga University School of Law in 2002.  She passed away in February 2011 just shy of her 92nd birthday.

Banquet attendees will be invited to direct gifts to help endow the Eva Lassman Memorial Fund at Gonzaga University.  When it reaches the endowment threshold, the Memorial Fund will support an annual Eva Lassman Student Award for Gonzaga University undergraduates to work with the Institute on projects that combine research, education, and leadership in continuance of Lassman’s legacy of “combating hatred, promoting tolerance and respect, and advancing peace and human rights.”

Banquet reservations for individuals and groups are available now.  Pricing begins at $50 for individuals and $400 for a table of eight persons.  All proceeds from the Take Action Against Hate Banquet support the activities of the Institute for Hate Studies.

For more information on the Take Action Against Hate Banquet, to make reservations or to become an Institute member or sponsor, visit, call (509) 313-3665 or contact the Institute via e-mail at Inquiries about the event should be directed to Dr. John Shuford at (509) 313-3665.

Those who wish to give directly to the Eva Lassman Memorial Fund should contact Dori Sonntag, Director of Development at the Gonzaga Office of University Relations, at (509) 313-6149 or via e-mail at or visit

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