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Posted on: December 13, 2019

HRRC Recognizes Two with Tom Oye Human Rights Awards

Edina, Minn., Dec. 9, 2019 – The Human Rights & Relations Commission (HRRC) recently honored a senior at Edina High School and a longtime librarian with Tom Oye Human Rights Awards for championing human rights in the community.

A leader at Edina High School, Olivia Pierce was given one of the prestigious awards for her work as a missionary and civil rights activist. Pierce uses her voice as a young black woman to advocate for greater representation of people of color in her faith tradition, in her school community, and in-service opportunities locally and abroad. At school, she participates in the Black Student Union and also formed a faith-based student group to promote a more positive and caring climate at Edina High School. She has been involved globally as a volunteer with a medical team in Haiti.

Pierce was chosen to give a TED talk last year. She spoke about unconscious racial bias within organized Christianity and the need for the faith to become more inclusive. The talk already has been viewed online more than 7,000 times. It has also been shown in community workshops in Edina and Bloomington as a guide to help people recognize their own biases and to become more accepting of others.

During his career as a librarian in Germany, Zambia, Uganda and Edina, Sanford Berman found that words used in library catalogs determined how people were described when searches were made for information. When he found words in the system that described a person or group unfairly or inaccurately, he spoke out and sought changes. In the world of librarians, he became known for insisting on word changes in the Library of Congress that would remove bias and help library patrons find the resources they wanted. While working for the Hennepin County Library System, Berman wrote Prejudices and Antipathies: A Tract on the Library of Congress Subject Heads Concerning People. In it, he documented the ways in which some words used in the catalog system perpetuated racism, sexism and other biases. Caitlin Ellingen Abram, daughter of the first Tom Oye Award recipient, presented Pierce and Berman their awards at the Dec. 3 Edina City Council meeting.

The award was established in 2006 in recognition of the late Tom Oye who helped found the HRRC in 1970 and served on it for more than 30 years. Oye was also a Nisei soldier in World War II, a second-generation Japanese American who served in the 100th Infantry Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In 2003, Oye received the Prize for Humanity by the Immortal Chaplains Foundation.

Nominees were evaluated based on their efforts to foster respect and dignity for others, model courage and/or compassion in the advancement of human rights, and demonstrate leadership by example for improving human relations or advancing human rights.

For more information on the award, contact HRRC Staff Liaison Heidi Lee at 952-826-1622 or

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