May 9, 2011

PHOTO SUPPLIED

Activist Hank Zyp continues to ‘speak’ with his art, notes, hugs and pounding applause.

CECILY MILLS
SPECIAL TO THE WCR

I am pleased to announce that Hank Zyp is the recipient of the 2011 SAGE Award in the area of social justice and peace. The SAGE awards celebrate seniors who inspire, empower and engage others in making our community, province, nation and world a better place.

The list of Hank and Tillie Zyp’s achievements is long and impressive. It includes the founding of two NGOs: St. Joseph’s Save the Children Club (now called Rainbow of Hope for Children) and Change for Children. Thirty-five years later, these organizations are thriving, proving ordinary people can make an extraordinary difference.

It includes a rich legacy of muralism: the 100-foot mural depicting 250 men and women of many times, races, nationalities and faiths who made a difference in the world, designed by Hank and executed in 1987 with the help of his commercial art students at St. Joseph Composite High School; Painting Peace Project (2000-01) that brought together Central American and Canadian youth; Edmonton Peace Mural, on the Salvation Army Building downtown, unveiled as part of Change for Children’s 25th anniversary celebration, and the Children’s Rights and Multiculturalism mural on St. Angela’s School which celebrates the life of Ed Carson (1958-2008), one of the many students whose activism and artistic creativity Hank inspired.

Portions of the 100-foot mural are displayed at St. Joe’s.

At a meeting of Edmonton’s Salvadoran community, it was delightful to be “distracted” by the portraits of persons revered by those who sought refuge in Canada during the brutal war of the 80s in El Salvador.

Hank used his literary skills writing for Catholic New Times, Prairie Messenger, Western Catholic Reporter, Rainbow of Hope for Children and for a 420-page album to accompany the mural he designed and painted with his students.

However, the SAGE award celebrates a continuum of engagement. It celebrates what Hank has done since he was felled by a major stroke in 2002 at the age of 67.

In addition to experiencing mobility problems, his voice was silenced and his ability to write and paint reduced to a slow scrawl. Hank shouldered the task of rehabilitation courageously.

Hank attends Rainbow of Hope for Children board meetings. He keeps up to date on global events and local news. He greets people with a big hug; passes notes of congratulations, comments on events of common interest.

He makes up for not being able to express himself verbally by being present to everyone’s words, banging on the table to express approval and enthusiasm. The absence of words frees him to be fully present and to experience intense childlike joy and excitement.

MEETING OF MINDS

Recently, the U of A Festival of Minds presented Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal. Hank was overwhelmed with joy at meeting the friend he had visited twice in Solentiname in the 1980s.

He and his daughter Theresa plan to raise money to build a school on Solentiname just as they did recently for a music program in Managua.

On Oct. 16, 2007, five and a half years after his major stroke, Hank held an exhibition of 26 colourful acrylic paintings completed in the previous 10 months. The paintings featured aboriginal people of Canada and Latin America, reflecting his abiding concern for justice for the dispossessed of the earth.

Recently, Hank, Tillie and I met at an executive committee of city council to defend the public space that honours Mary Burlie in downtown Edmonton. I became Hank’s voice using the words he recorded from Mary Burlie.

CHANGE HEARTS, MINDS

“We must start changing our hearts and minds around how we start dealing with the poor.”

Hank and Tillie’s work reaches across generations, reminding us we are all brothers and sisters called to work for peace, justice and love.

This award honours Hank’s valiant return to activism and community contribution.

It will be presented on May 11 at the Sutton Place Hotel, 10235-101 St., 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tickets jnoonan@MySage.ca.