School of Divinity professor Derek Hicks and two students Rose O’Brien and Cazandra Rebollar have been named Wake Forest University’s 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. “Building the Dream” award winners.
The award is traditionally presented to a professor or administrator and a student from both Wake Forest and Winston-Salem State University who exemplify King’s qualities and promote diversity within the community. This year, one faculty member and two students were selected as winners at Wake Forest.
Faculty award winner Derek Hicks is assistant professor of religion and culture in Wake Forest School of Divinity and Department for the Study of Religions. He joined Wake Forest in 2011.
Hicks has spoken nationwide and in the Winston-Salem community at various churches and events to discuss and provide insight on current race relations in America. He works closely with community leaders such as Melissa Harris-Perry, Rev. William A. Lawson, Dr. John Mendez, and Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch to ensure meaningful discussions continue that build and enhance community relations.
“It is an honor for the School of Divinity to have the contributions of one of our faculty members recognized with this award,” said Gail O’Day, dean of the divinity school. “Dr. Hicks’s scholarship, teaching, student mentoring, and community engagement do indeed help bring the dream of racial justice closer to a lived reality for all of us.”
Junior politics and international affairs major and Winston-Salem native Rose O’Brien was recognized for her outreach to refugees and her determination to fight discrimination. O’Brien organized Wake Refugee Day – Unity in Diversity at Wake Forest last November, an event featuring a variety of activities to engage refugee families and community members interested in learning more about their diverse lives and experience. She also created the Student Association for the Advancement of Refugees to support and connect the Wake Forest community to local refugees.
“Rose is committed to welcoming the men, women and children who arrive in Winston-Salem from unimaginable conditions and need partners and friends as they navigate life here,” said communication professor Alessandra Beasley Von Burg, whose work focuses on immigration and refugee assimilation. Rose works with the refugees, becoming both mentor and friend, teacher and pupil, organizer and participant, with passion, kindness and humility.”
Senior psychology major Cazandra Rebollar, a first-generation college student, was recognized for her commitment to social justice and those most marginalized and disenfranchised. She has worked on behalf of new immigrants and undocumented students through her leadership role in Wake Forest’s Organization of Latin American and Latino Students, planning several campus-wide events including high profile speakers as well as local community members who could give voice to the struggles of recently arrived immigrants across our state and nation. She is a volunteer at El Buen Pastor and works closely with the University’s Volunteer Service Corps.
“Through her connections to undocumented youth, Cazandra has created a safe space that allows this population to share their stories with those of us who take our status as citizens largely for granted,” said sociology professor Ana Wahl, whose research focuses on social stratification and the politics of inequality. “Cazandra consistently stands up for her convictions, grounded in the solidarity she maintains with those who are most powerless in our society.”
Winston-Salem State University awarded the Building the Dream Award to two faculty members (Dawn N. Tafari and Fran Bates-Oates) and one student (Dishanda Brown).
Faculty, staff and students at Wake Forest and Winston-Salem State University submit “Building the Dream” award nominations for their respective universities and a committee of representatives from each school selects winners. The recipients were recognized at an annual banquet celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held at Winston-Salem State University on Jan. 17.