By KAYLA J. MARSH
The sixth annual Earl Thomas Teasley Humanitarian Award was presented to an individual continually “bringing out the best in people” in order to build a more cohesive, embracing and understanding community.
The Monmouth County Human Relations Commission (MCHRC) presented the award June 6 to Sarbmeet Kanwal, co-founder and coordinator of Garden State MOSAIC, at an event that took place at the Monmouth County Agricultural Building on Kozloski Road in Freehold.
“I’m just overwhelmed, but I feel very, very honored,” Kanwal said. “This award was a complete surprise to me. I was absolutely not expecting it [so] thank you very much for this incredible honor.”
As coordinator of Garden State MOSAIC since 2013, Kanwal has worked to build the program up and bring together youth from diverse faith backgrounds to learn from each other, work on community service projects and develop leadership skills. Many said he exudes positive energy and leads the program with diligence and compassion.
Garden State MOSAIC is a multi-faith educational program providing youth an opportunity to learn positive and constructive ways of addressing differences in values and norms between the many different faith traditions in society.
“I have had the honor of knowing him for the past three years, and he has done an amazing job bringing together and working with a diverse team, especially a team of young people,” said Fatima Jaffari, a member of MCHRC.
“When Sarbmeet took on this challenge of leading Garden State MOSAIC, he didn’t know what he was really getting into and has done a fabulous job … inspiring the young people and keeping the entire program together.
“Just working with him over the past few years, you really see his diligence, his devotion and his compassion to other human beings [and see] that he goes above and beyond.”
Accepting his award, Kanwal told the story of a TED talk video he saw earlier in the morning of June 6 that reminded him of why he loves doing what he does.
“The video was made by an Israeli gentleman … and describes his story [which] starts with him feeling very tired and fed up with all of the rhetoric and conversation about the animosity between Israel and Iran,” he said. “He just heard some comments that really worked him up, and on a whim he wanted to do something about it so he made a little poster.
“After taking a photo, which included his daughter in his lap holding an Israeli flag, he posted it to Facebook with positive comments including, ‘Iranians, we will never bomb your country,’ and ‘Israel (hearts) Iran.’
“The next morning he got up, looked at it and saw that there were quite a few responses from people … and was really surprised that [even] people from Iran had responded to it too,” Kanwal said. “… He related the story to some of his friends and they were so touched they wanted to put a message like that on Facebook too, and in several days there were people whose messages had been posted … and before he knew it the thing started [growing].
“Not only did the Iranians respond to the message, but they started making their own posters with their own messages … and while this was going on … people in other countries who had enemies like Iran and Israel started posting and writing to each other … and it has really shown that there is so much good bottled up in people everywhere in the world, which only comes out when there is a spark that is lit up.”
Kanwal said that spark is something that is lit under each and every individual involved with Garden State MOSAIC.
“What we have been able to accomplish is that we have opened up and have brought out the love and the desire that is in people to know about each other’s traditions, to know about each other’s traits, to understand them and to respect them and to carry that message forward,” Kanwal said. “We had no idea what it would turn out to be. We simply knew that something needed to be done.
“We need these sparks to light up the fires [and] all the good that is in everybody has to be brought out, and I am convinced that there is much more good in the world than there is evil, it just needs to be brought out.”
Kanwal is also a board member of the Monmouth Center for World Religions and Ethical Thought and currently teaches at Brookdale Community College.
“When [we talk] about meeting those people who bring out the best in others, I would say that that is what Sarbmeet does with everyone that he meets,” Jaffari said.
“MOSAIC aims to build peace one teen at a time [and] without Sarbmeet’s patience, diligence … the amount of coordination that he does with all these people who never came together before … getting them to work together, communicating amongst all these people, it requires a special type of person, a person who can speak across different cultures, who can connect to all different types of people, and [he does] it with such grace and enthusiasm.”
Earl Thomas Teasley, whom the award is named in honor of, was chairman of the MCHRC at the time of his death in April 2010. He was an advocate for social justice, a beloved counselor and also taught at Brookdale Community College.
“I feel honored by the award … and if I can come anywhere close to what he was, that would be absolutely incredible,” Kanwal said.
Teasley’s sister, Melissa, took a few moments to thank the MCHRC for all its hard work and continuing to keep Earl’s passion and spirit alive.
“I’m so excited to be a part of this day, and Dr. Kanwal I am so ecstatic that you are the recipient of this year’s award,” she said. “… Sometimes we can be diligent in our role but forget about the person and individuals by whom we are surrounded, and, like Earl, I love that you are compassionate.
“Compassion is such an important piece and a very vital part of our life because without compassion your diligence means nothing.
“… I came across this card, ‘Peace, it does not mean to be in a place where there are no rules, trouble or hard work, it means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart’ [and] that is what your diligence and your compassion means to the Teasley family, and we wish you many blessings to come and thank you for expanding your love throughout and about the community because when you start with the community, you reach the world.”
Monmouth County Freeholder John P. Curley also took a few moments to recognize Kanwal and the work the MCHRC does.
“We have a great deal of diversity here in Monmouth County,” he said. “Monmouth County is a relatively wealthy place to live, but there are many folks who are downtrodden and there are many people that need that representation.
“I believe one of the best homilies I ever heard is, ‘Help your fellow human beings survive’ and that is what each and every one of us in public service and private citizens try to do and that is certainly the most commendable thing one could possibly achieve … and Earl taught us the importance of being kind and gracious to our fellow human beings and to work in the best possible way to have a cohesive community.”
Founded in 1990, Vice Chairperson Sherri West said the MCHRC is about enhancing human relations through developing programs, creating resources for local schools, businesses and other entities, public speaking and outreach, and overall educating individuals.
“Somewhat quiet, [Earl] always had a smile on his face … collaborated and connected different groups together and worked with different community groups on melding together business, government, educational and faith communities to try to do the most that they could do to enhance the mission and to make the world a better place,” she said.
“In life you realize that there is a purpose for everyone you meet. Some will test you, some will use you and some will teach you, but most important are the ones that bring out the best in you and that is what Earl did … and we thought what better way can we honor his memory and continue his work but to award, to give recognition to someone in the community, who is bringing out the best in all of us and making Monmouth County, even the world, a better place.”