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Four to be honored by Syracuse University with Martin Luther King Jr. Unsung Heroes Awards

January 18, 2011

Kelly Homan Rodoski
(315) 443-3784

The 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. Unsung Heroes Awards will be presented to four members of the Syracuse University or greater Syracuse communities during the 26th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, “Heirs of a King: Remembering and Continuing the Work of Global Legacy.” The event will be held Sunday, Jan. 23, at 6:30 p.m. in the Carrier Dome and is free and open to the public.

This year’s award recipients are Omolara Funmilola Akinpelu, research associate with the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University (SU/ESF Faculty/Staff Award); Eileen E. Baldassarre, C-STEP administrative coordinator at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SU/ESF Faculty/Staff Award); Sacchi Patel, a graduate student in the School of Education (SU Student Award); and Kwame Adusei, obstetrician/gynecologist with St. Joseph Hospital Health Center’s Maternal Child Health Center (Community Member Award).

Omolara Funmilola Akinpelu
As a passionate advocate for people with disabilities, Akinpelu utilizes her scholarly insight and collaborative spirit in meaningful ways for the Central New York community. Her unwavering determination to create a more inclusive community based on shared responsibility, compassion and respect for all speaks to the spirit of King’s “beloved community.”

Akinpelu has been instrumental in the creation of practical solutions to the unique challenges faced by women with disabilities, including deafness. Women with disabilities not only experience domestic violence in vastly disproportionate numbers, but also encounter barriers to seeking assistance.  

A native of Nigeria, Akinpelu has helped to develop and implement a comprehensive and inclusive community prevention and response system to this problem. She is currently involved in Project EMERGE, a BBI initiative in collaboration with two community agencies, ARISE and Vera House. As Project EMERGE advocate at ARISE, she has worked to identify specific gaps in service, barriers to safety and accessible support, and system inadequacies for women with disabilities who are survivors of domestic violence.

Her collaboration with ARISE and Vera House has led to a coordinated community response to fill a gap in service and promote awareness of women with disabilities. In addition, Akinpelu has helped to develop a comprehensive curriculum to train staff at both ARISE and Vera House to improve service delivery to women with disabilities who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Her work could have implications beyond Central New York, as she collaborates with other community partners to replicate the program in various organizations.

Eileen E. Baldassarre
Baldassarre is the C-STEP administrative coordinator at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, working with students and planning educational programs in ESF’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. Beyond her professional life, she is consistently engaged in volunteer service and outreach to others in the community. Baldassarre has been consistently engaged as a volunteer at Loretto Nursing Home in Syracuse for many years, taking patients to Sunday mass downstairs each week, serving Thanksgiving dinner, transporting patients to the New York State Fair each year or simply sitting with them. She previously served as youth minister and confirmation teacher in her parish, St. Leo’s in Tully.

Baldassarre’s outreach activities span a wide spectrum, from clothing and furniture drives for economically disadvantaged citizens, to support of the American Heart Association, Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Program and Christmas Bureau distribution.

International students at ESF have come to know Baldassarre as a person they can count on. She often hosts students in her home for a family-style meal. She has volunteered time weekly every semester since 2006 as an English conversation group leader at SU’s Lillian and Emanuel Slutzker Center for International Services. Students she has supported have come from China, Japan, Korea, Nicaragua, Taiwan, Turkey and Vietnam, among other countries.

In 2008, Baldassarre spearheaded the community effort to support U.S. Olympian and Tully resident Lopez Lomong and to send his adoptive parents and coach to China to watch him participate in the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. Lopez is one of the Sudanese “Lost Boys.” Through the efforts of Baldassarre and other community members, more than $50,000 was raised to support Lomong and his family on their Olympic journey. Money raised for the Lopez Lomong Support Team was also was donated to Sudanese and refugee funds and scholarships.

Kwame Adusei, M.D.
As an obstetrician/gynecologist working at St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center’s Maternal Child Health Center, Adusei serves the Central New York community. But he has a higher calling—to improve health care in his hometown in Ghana.

Since coming to the United States in 1990, Adusei has worked largely to provide for his people. He has spent thousands of dollars shipping medical supplies, many of which are donated by St. Joseph’s, including 25 hospital beds and mattresses, medications, bed sheets—anything he can find.

Adusei recently spent three weeks in Ghana, a trip he makes once or twice a year to provide medical care to the villagers there. He also visits his family, including his sister. During a trip he made in early 2008, the village honored Adusei for his tireless efforts to improve medical care. In fact, the government’s medical complex is named after him.

In an interview with St. Joseph’s, Adusei said, “I recently financed and finished building a small pharmacy near the clinic so villagers can easily obtain medications. It’s a rather simple structure, but it serves its purpose.”

He added that on his regular trips, he also performs blood pressure and diabetes screenings for the people. It’s not uncommon for him to bring along colleagues from the Central New York medical community. Together, doctors can screen up to 500 patients in one trip; the majority are found to have high blood pressure. The average life span of a Ghanaian is 51 and in some places, it’s even less. They have many health issues and Adusei’s goal is to try to make an impact and help them.

Adusei usually travels to the people via a mobile van to provide the screenings since it’s very difficult for them to travel on their own. “I enjoy helping my people,” he told St. Joseph’s. “I’ve been fortunate to have so many great things, and St. Joseph’s has helped me to provide for the people of Ghana who desperately need basic, good health care.” Adusei’s goal is to bring more physicians to the villages.

Sacchi Patel
Patel, a master’s student in cultural foundations of education in SU’s School of Education, is committed to ending male sexual violence against women on campus and nationwide.

He is a graduate assistant for the SU R.A.P.E. Center, faculty co-facilitator in the Intergroup Dialogue Program and the current mentor to the members of A Men’s Issue (AMI). AMI is the first and only all-male student organization at SU that provides a space for men to rethink conventional masculinity and combat sexism before it can manifest as violence.

“To say Sacchi’s presence is invaluable is an understatement,” says Tremayne Robertson, who nominated Patel for the award. “How valuable is the time that one male spends to challenge a system where sexual violence is prevalent and encouraged by some men and challenged by others, such as Sacchi, who critically reflects and questions other mens’ understanding of ‘manhood?’”

Patel has also volunteered and worked at Vera House. He co-facilitates academic courses that thematically address gender and sexual orientation, and co-founded MasculinityU, a web-based platform that will nationally raise the awareness of college men and further sustain the investment of men talking with one another about male gender roles, and ultimately what it means to be a man in contemporary society, where violence against women is prevalent and accepted internationally.

“From the onset of his undergraduate career, Sacchi sought out opportunities to learn outside the classroom and to contribute to the University community,” say Janet Epstein and Jill Sneider of the Syracuse University R.A.P.E. Center.

In his role with the R.A.P.E. Center, Patel mentored the members of AMI and co-presented with several members at two national conferences on engaging men in campus sexual violence prevention efforts. Through his work at the national conferences, Patel has become identified as a leader among men working to end gender-based violence, and is consulted by representatives of campuses and organizations across the country.

As an instructor with the Intergroup Dialogue Program, Patel has facilitated student discussions about race and gender. Patel has a strong commitment to social justice, and his approach to his academic endeavors, as well as his interactions with individuals, are always guided by that lens.

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