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A New Plymouth Boys’ High School student has won a national race relations competition with a speech citing examples of past and present New Zealand leaders who have helped forge unity in Aotearoa.

The year 11 student, Robbie White, used the metaphor of a tui building a nest to explain how to unify people of different backgrounds.

“What is a tui? A leader, a march, a call, a movement, a word, an action, a stand, a physical structure, an event, the voice of unity, bringing people together with common purpose, understanding and connection,” he asked during his speech in the Race Unity Speech Awards at Auckland’s Te Mahurehure Marae last night.

“…I think of Te Whiti O Rongomai and Dame Whina Cooper.”

READ MORE: The national Race Unity Speech Awards

White also recognised former New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd as a leader who has built racial unity.


“On my doorstep, in my forest, Andrew Judd is also a tui. Once a self-proclaimed racist himself, …his ‘peace march’ stamped a monumental mark on race unity in the Taranaki region,” White said.

The student wove te reo Māori strongly into his speech.

At the prizegiving last night, chief judge Wallace Haumaha, Deputy Commissioner of Police, joked that Robbie White was from the Taranaki iwi Te Āti Awa because of his excellent use of te reo Māori.

The 22 students who competed in the final round of the NZ Race Unity Speech Awards at St Columba Centre, Ponsonby, on Friday night before the finals last night. Image: David Robie/PMC

Struggle over hair
Zimbabwean New Zealander Takunda Muzondiwa of Mt Albert Grammar School talked about internalised racism and her struggle to accept her natural hair due to society’s narrow concept of beauty.

Muzondiwa recited a poem she wrote about a recent incident where a man had touched her hair on a train in Auckland without asking.

“But luckily my hair, my hair speaks volumes. Tangled and twisted there are stories in these in curls. Stories of a mother, father stamped with a number marked as objects sold for property,” she said.

“Stories of my ancestors shackled in cages displayed in zoos the same way you stroke me like an exhibit in a petting zoo.

“It’s twisted and tangled there are stories in these curls. A beautiful possession of my history’s oppression.”

The national final of the Race Unity Speech Awards at Te Mahurehure Marae featured the top six speakers from 180 students who had entered this year’s awards.

The speech awards provide a national platform for senior high school students to express their ideas on how New Zealanders can improve race relations.

Increasing diversity
Organisers said participants this year again reflected New Zealand’s increasing diversity of more than 200 ethnicities and 100 plus languages.

Speech finalists represented immigrant communities from Egypt, Philippines, Russia and Samoa who now call Aotearoa home.

In a letter, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged the students who participated in the speech awards.

“Following the tragic events in Christchurch, this year’s Race Unity Speech Awards and hui hold even greater significance,” she said in the message.

“We need to think deeply and carefully about our country’s rich and precious diversity, and what we need to do to remain an inclusive, multicultural country.”

Many of the speeches touched on New Zealanders’ response to the terrorist attack on two Christchurch mosques that killed 50 people with another dying later.

Runner-up Nina Gelashvili of Kuranui College in Wairarapa said: “It shouldn’t take 50 lives for us to finally realise that racism still lives in New Zealand and it shouldn’t take 50 lives for us to come together as one.”

‘Oneness of humanity’
The Race Unity Speech Awards are organised by the New Zealand Baha’i Community, a religious community concerned with promoting the oneness of humanity at the local, national and international levels.

The awards are also sponsored by NZ Police, the Human Rights Commission and the Hedi Moani Charitable Trust, and supported by Multicultural NZ, the Office of Ethnic Communities and Speech NZ.

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