WESTFIELD, NJ — First Congregational Church of Westfield presented its Marc Wesley Hardy Human Rights Award on Sunday, May 23, to two highly deserving high school seniors. Nala Scott from Westfield High School and Elizabeth Rehwinkel from Union County Academy for Performing Arts at Union County Vocational–Technical Schools were named the 2021 honorees of the award, which is given annually to a young person who has been an outstanding advocate for social justice, human rights and the rights of the less fortunate — three things that were of major importance to Hardy in his life.
Scott, a new graduate of Westfield High School, decided at a young age to speak her mind about the lack of tolerance, and the harassment and bullying that she was experiencing. As a junior in high school, Scott was invited to serve on her school’s new “No Place for Hate” committee, on which students discuss ways for the school to encourage tolerance among the entire student body and faculty. Scott also worked in partnership with other students to organize a Black Lives Matter rally in Mindowaskin Park. The event safely gathered more than 3,000 people of all ages, races and social classes. Guest speakers included Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle, U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski, and Gov. Phil Murphy.
“The event started with an eight-minute-and-46-second moment of silence, in honor of George Floyd,” Scott stated. “During those eight minutes, I watched the park become more full of people. It was a blessing to watch the amount of support coming from the community.”
Christine Spear of Westfield wrote in her recommendation letter for Scott, “Nala stood up and was a model to others, the young people who were impacted by what she did. She was truly a role model. They learned firsthand how important it is to speak up — to stand up — for injustice. She truly made a difference.”
One of Scott’s projects that is still in progress is a high school course called “POC (People of Color) Origins.” The course will teach about the historical experiences of different race groups in America and the numerous contributions that each have made to American innovation in science, literature, medicine and more.
Scott said, “The Mark Hardy Award means a lot to me, because this scholarship embodies my main goals and actions in civil rights, something that I have always been passionate about and I will continue to be, as I go off to college to find a career path in criminal rehabilitation, criminal psychiatry or criminal justice system reform — all options are something I want to do for change.”
Rehwinkel is a new graduate of the Union County Academy for Performing Arts at UCVTS and a member of First Congregational Church of Westfield. In addition to her service work as a member of FCC’s Youth Fellowship and her continuing work with the church’s Board of Christian Education, Rehwinkel has advanced efforts to promote equality for women, specifically in the STEM arena. She and her sister, Madeline, created a website with information and activities in support of women in STEM. Rehwinkel also organized her high school’s first-ever Women’s History Month Showcase, as well as a Black Lives Matter silent protest on the front lawn of First Congregational Church of Westfield.
Rehwinkel said, “My favorite part about the United Church of Christ is its long history of being a leader in promoting human rights. Last summer, it seemed important for our congregation to continue that tradition and reaffirm to each other and the community that we and the UCC believe that Black Lives Matter.”
Rehwinkel is dedicated to members of marginalized societies and strives to make their lives more fulfilled. In addition, she volunteers with the Little Stars Special Needs Dance Class, has been active in student government and school service projects, has participated in the New Jersey Governor’s STEM Scholars program, and has been a youth deacon and church school assistant at FCC.
“I often question whether I am the right person to speak up about different human rights issues, even if they are very important to me,” Rehwinkel said while accepting her award. “As I go off to college and am presented with new opportunities, I will remember this day and I will remember Marc. I will take Marc with me in my heart, and I will remember not to be hesitant, because we will be taking action together.”
Both honorees received a scholarship and certificate from the Board of Outreach Ministries at First Congregational Church during the worship celebration on Sunday, May 23, which was also livestreamed on Facebook. Hardy’s mother, Delores, attended the service. The award is presented each spring in remembrance of Hardy, a member of FCC who was killed in a car accident in 1990, shortly before his graduation from Westfield High School. He was a National Merit Scholar, a gifted singer and actor, and very passionate about the preservation of human rights.
The full presentation can be viewed on the FCC Facebook page or here.