Thursday, May 03, 2007

The kids stole the show.

There were, of course, grown-ups present at the celebration of the 39th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act hosted by the Newport News Office of Human Affairs, a HUD grantee.

[Photo: Group picture]
Left to Right - Bill Miles, HUD Richmond Field Office Director; Wanda Nieves, Region III Director of Fair Housing; Ruth Winston, Fair Housing, HUD Richmond; Wendell Braxton, Office of Human Affairs. The children are the winners of the 2007 Fair Housing Poster Contest sponsored by the Office of Human Affairs.

Wendell Braxton of the Newport News Office of Human Affairs welcomed the 90 or so attendees. Managing Assistant U.S. Attorney Howard Zlotnick spoke about efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice to combat hate crimes. Denise Goode of Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Inc., provided an update on the status of fair housing legislation considered by this year's General Assembly session. And HUD Regional Director for Fair Housing Wanda Nieves talked about the increase in HUD's enforcement actions in general and its efforts to address the impacts of local zoning and land-use decisions on the Fair Housing Act.

But the kids stole the show.

400 of them, from ten Head Start programs across Newport News. In planning for this year's celebration, the Office of Human Affairs looked to do something a little different to bring home the importance of the Act. They decided on a poster contest in which kids could talk about what fair housing means to them in pictures instead of words.

The Office of Human Affairs probably wasn't prepared for the response it got. More than 400 posters of all shapes, sizes and color combinations.

"Remarkable, just remarkable," said HUD Richmond Field Office Director Bill Miles after viewing some of the 10 winning entries and presenting awards to 1st-place winner, Indira Mohabir of the Aqueduct Head Start Center, 2nd-place winner, Carolyn Boyke of the Hampton Avenue Head Start Center and 3rd-place winner Azalyia Carter of the Suzanne E. Jones Head Start Center.

"One thing was clear from every entry I viewed though they're young, these kids really, truly "get" the message of fair housing and the rights and obligations that flow from it.

"The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical said that you have to be taught to hate and taught to fear. A huge amount of credit should go to the parents and teachers of these kids and to the kids themselves. As their artwork demonstrates, these young people have well learned the importance of respecting, not hating, those of other races, cultures and religions.

"As they grow up to become the artists and the leaders of tomorrow, we can rest assured that the Fair Housing Act will be in good hands and strong hearts."

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