Facing History and Ourselves founder Margot Strom and Facing History volunteer lecturer Elisabeth Dopazo were honored with the 2018 Roger Grande Social Justice Award at the Coolidge Corner Theatre on April 11. The award presentation was part of the 8th Brookline Youth Awards. The Brookline Youth Awards provides an opportunity for Brookline residents to hear about the character, challenges, and dreams of its young people, as well as adults dedicated to their advancement, through the power and intimacy of video interviews.

Strom and Dopazo’s video interview captivated the audience, with rounds of applause and cheers echoing around the theater. Dopazo’s candid and provocative video remarks, in particular, received a strong, positive reaction from the room. Both women received a sustained standing ovation as they stood to embrace each other in front of the delighted audience.

The Roger Grande Social Justice Award, named after transcendent BHS teacher Roger Grande, was introduced at the event in 2012. The award is presented each year to an adult who inspires and affects young people in the area of social justice. Past recipients include Kathryn Leslie, Paul Epstein, Pat Norling, Rene Feuerman, and Malcolm Cawthorne.

In 1976, Margot Strom, an 8th-grade teacher from the Runkle School, and Bill Parsons, an 8th-grade teacher from the Lincoln School, nurtured in an innovative educational environment created by the great Dr. Robert Sperber, created an 8th grade Holocaust education curriculum.  With the help of their community, Strom and Parsons formed what is now Facing History and Ourselves. Bill Parsons would go on to leave Facing in 1990, to join the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, later serving as its Museum Chief of Staff. Sperber and Parsons, sadly, both passed away in 2017.

For 40 years, under Strom’s leadership and boundless spirit, Facing History grew from its humble Brookline roots to an organization with an international presence, partnering with schools in 134 countries to help students examine racism, prejudice, and Anti-Semitism. Facing History’s network of over 40,000 educators reach approximately 4 million students each year. In 2015, after four decades leading the landmark Brookline nonprofit she founded, Strom stepped down to become the organization’s President Emerita and Senior Scholar.

Dopazo’s parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses. During the height of the Nazi reign of terror in Germany, soldiers entered the Dopazo household. They removed her mother and father at gunpoint. Her parents were arrested as enemies of the state. Her father was eventually executed at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp for failing to denounce his religion. Her mother spent five years in prison.

When Dopazo met Strom in 1976, she had hardly even told the details of what she endured in Nazi Germany with even her own family.  But inspired by Strom’s encouragement, she told her story to one Facing History classroom, then another, then another, hundreds of classes over 42 years and counting. According to Dopazo, she has received over 90,000 responses from students. She makes young people laugh, and learn. Dopazo doesn’t sugarcoat anything. She’s a revelation.

Margot Strom and Elisabeth Dopazo in their own unique way, and with the help of each other, are two of the most important people to ever live in Brookline.

By R. Harvey Bravman, Publisher