Facing History and Ourselves co-founder Margot Strom will be honored along with Facing History volunteer lecturer Elisabeth Dopazo with the 2018 Roger Grande Social Justice Award at the 8th Brookline Youth Awards on April 11. This special evening at the Coolidge Corner Theatre begins at 7 pm in the main playhouse.

The Brookline Youth Awards focuses on the special contributions of teens that either live in or go to school in Brookline. The event features video interviews of teen award recipients. Event organizers work closely with the Brookline School System and the Town of Brookline. A 15-person nominating committee chooses award recipients based on essays submitted by teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, students, and residents.

The Brookline Youth Awards also honor adults who are dedicated to the advancement of young people.

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 and Bill Parsons were 8th-grade teachers from the Runkle School and the Lincoln School, respectively. Strom and Parsons, nurtured in an innovative educational environment created by the great Dr. Robert Sperber, organized an 8th grade Holocaust education curriculum.  Through that experience and the support of their community, Strom and Parsons formed what is now Facing History and Ourselves. Bill Parsons left Facing History in 1990 to join the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and later serving as the museum’s chief of staff. Sperber and Parsons, sadly, passed away in 2017.

For 40 years, under Strom’s strong 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 four 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.

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

Now that you know that, there is absolutely no way to describe Elisabeth Dopazo or be prepared for her. She fits no perception of what we think of a survivor.  When Strom and Parsons were forming their 8th grade Holocaust education curriculum, Dopazo was a teacher’s aide at the Lincoln. As she puts it, “I helped students who didn’t want to go to school to do their homework. Otherwise, they wouldn’t do it. I could relate to that because I hated school from day one to the last day.”

That’s Elisabeth Dopazo – funny, wise, provocative and strong. She’s a pistol. 

When Dopazo met Strom in 1976, she had hardly 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 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 she makes them learn. Dopazo doesn’t sugarcoat anything. She’s a revelation.

Margot Strom and Elisabeth Dopazo in their own unique ways, and with the help of each other, are two of the most important people to ever live in Brookline. The 8th Brookline Youth Awards will feature their video interview on the big screen at the Coolidge, followed by their award presentation.

Elias Audy will also be recognized at the 8th Brookline Youth Awards with the 2018 Ethel Weiss Service Award.

Ginny Vas will receive the 2018 Suriel Guerrero Parent of the Year Award.

The Brookline Youth Awards were founded by Brookline Hub. The event’s Principal Sponsors are Brookline Hub, Inc., the Town of Brookline, Brookline Community Foundation, Brookline Bank and the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

Thanks to the generosity of the Coolidge Corner Theater, there is no admission charge for this April 11 event. Sometimes you get more than you paid for. This is one of those times.

By R. Harvey Bravman, Publisher