People of the Year

BY CHRIS GOUDREAU

DAILY HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 2ND, 2020

An anti-racist activist who has organized protests across the Pioneer Valley. A Northampton High School student who made 2,000 3D-printed face shields for local area health care workers. A co-founder of a worker-owned human-powered delivery and hauling service. These are three individuals who have made a big difference in their communities in 2020 — and who’ve been chosen as recipients of the Daily Hampshire Gazette and United Way of Hampshire County’s annual awards, which date back to 2015 and this year were celebrated in an online event Oct. 1.

Person of the Year

Stephany Marryshow, who started the Facebook activist group 413 Stay Woke, Stay Active, won Person of the Year 2020. The 29-year-old West Springfield resident cofounded the group in June with her partner, Simbrit Paskins, in response to the police killing of George Floyd.

The couple first organized a Black Lives Matter protest June 2 in Holyoke, drawing around 1,000 demonstrators, and have gone on to organize or co-host protests in communities such as Chicopee, Agawam, Ludlow, Springfield and Easthampton.

Marryshow said the name of their organization is meant as a reminder to people to continue educating themselves about racial justice and pushing for change to end systemic racism in the United States.

Simbrit Paskins, left, and Stephany Marryshow, who are co-founders of the activist group 413 Stay Woke, Stay Active, are shown Wednesday in their new community coworking activist space in Springfield called The Ethnic Study

“People don’t understand that they need to be educated unless they understand that they’re the problem — and that it’s their problem to solve,” Marryshow said. “It’s about being honest and bold enough to not only have a sign, but to speak to family, speak to friends, speak to lawmakers and really go out of your way to make sure that this area is safe for people of color.”

Marryshow, who works as a residential counselor at ServiceNet in Amherst and is also a singer-songwriter, said she was surprised to be named Person of the Year 2020. She and Paskins hope the recognition will help to open up more conversations about race and equity in western Massachusetts.

“I personally just felt really proud. It meant that there was a room full of people that thought about what Steph’s been doing and contributing to the community in terms of racial justice and equity,” said Paskins, a 26-year-old ethnic studies teacher at Holyoke High School. “It mattered to them enough to say that this person needed to be recognized and awarded.”

Marryshow and Paskins said that in Hampshire County, they want to see more general awareness about how systemic racism affects not just police departments but also education, politics, health care and housing.

“As people of color, we can’t choose whether or not we want to see and/or experience the effects of racism,” Paskins said. “There are things that are embedded into the fabric of society … I think for white people with privilege, you can choose to put the blinders on.”

Marryshow, a native of Springfield, moved to Easthampton with her family in 2005 as community members of Treehouse, a nonprofit organization that seeks to re-envision foster care in America.

“My mom was doing foster care at the time — we lived in Springfield — and my little sister has special needs,” Marryshow said. “So, she realized that it would be nice to have some more support with that. Once she actually got custody of my other sister — she adopted my two sisters — Treehouse was just the best move for her to have a community that understood foster care and adoption.”

Marryshow and Paskins plan to open an activist-oriented cultural and educational coworking space called The Ethnic Study, located at 222 Worthington St. in Springfield, at the end of the month.

The idea behind the space is that it will “mirror what the academic discipline ‘ethnic studies’ does for people of color nationally,” Paskins said. “The discipline creates a safe space for students of color who have never or rarely seen themselves reflected in the school that they attend and or what they learn … It’s validating people’s identities that often are not validated. It’s validating people’s struggles and needs. We’re hoping that this space will do just that.”

Young Community Leader

This year’s Young Community Leader award winner is Mathieu Johnson, a 17-yearold Florence resident and senior at Northampton High School, who raised $6,046 on GoFundMe back in March to create 2,000 face shields for local hospitals, nursing homes, grocery stores and homeless shelters using a 3D printer at his family home.

“I was very shocked,” Johnson said, after learning he had won the award. “It was an award itself being able to help everyone. But I’m very grateful for it.”

He noted a feeling of helplessness at the start of the pandemic and realized at the time that he knew a way to help.

“I have the perfect tools to help,” Johsnon said. “I have the 3D printer, I have the materials, and all I have to do is get it to people.”

Mathieu Johnson, 17, sits beside one of his 3D printers Tuesday at his home in Florence. He made 2,000 face shields for health care workers with the printers. A model of a human heart rests on one printer

Johnson, who plans to pursue mechanical engineering after high school, said that using a 3D printer it takes around 40 minutes to make a single face shield, which costs around $3 to produce.

 

“A 3D printer is mainly two parts: There’s a print bed that’s a heatable platform, and then there’s the nozzle, which is really hot and squirts out plastic,” he explained. “The thing that a 3D printer does is, it takes the plastic and heats it up as a liquid, and then it traces it as a shape on the print bed. It does that over and over again with different layers. For instance, I think the face shield has 20 layers.”

Johnson’s mother, Donnabelle Casis, helped launch the GoFundMe campaign and coordinated with organizations that received the face shield donations.

“I’m really humbled and honored that he was even considered for this project because he’s usually working behind the scenes,” Casis said. “This isn’t something he was doing to garner any attention.”

Dr. Christina White, an associate veterinarian at River Bend Animal Hospital in Hadley, said they received a dozen face shields that were made by Johnson.

She thinks Johnson is an example of a person bettering the community.

“It takes innovation, a lot of creativity and then a lot of work,” White said. “He had multiple 3D printers going 24 hours a day … It’s really impressive.”

Frances Crowe Award

This year, a new addition to the annual awards is the Frances Crowe Award, named in honor of the legendary Northampton peace, anti-war and anti-nuclear activist Frances Crowe, who passed away in 2019 at the age of 100.

The recipient of the inaugural award is Ruthy Woodring, co-founder of Pedal People, a western Massachusetts- based cooperative of 22 people who pick up trash in Northampton by bicycle. The 46-year-old Florence resident has been cleaning up the community this way for the past 18 years.

Her work with Pedal People is about using human power to meet society’s needs, being part of a worker owned cooperative and thinking critically about American consumerism in everyday life.

Ruthy Woodring of Pedal People organized a project to deliver hundreds of bicycles to Trinidad.

One project that’s near and dear to Woodring’s heart is the Trinidad Bicycle Osmosis Project, for which she raised $2,613 via a GoFundMe campaign to ship more than 400 bicycles and household goods to One Family Farm in Moruga, Trinidad.

“When I started that project a year and a half ago, there were a couple important people in my life that saw it start, but didn’t see it finish — my mom was one of those and Frances was the other,” Woodring said.

Woodring, who was a friend of Frances Crowe and would stop by her house to cut her lawn with a push mower on a regular basis, said she was continually struck by the sign on Crowe’s door that read, “Does our lifestyle contribute to war?”

“I’ve always wanted to live in a way that my consumption didn’t have harmful effects on others,” Woodring said. “As a pacifist, as an anti-war activist, I’m trying to think about whatever I consume, whatever I do. If everyone lived like I did, would it be the kind of world that I’d want to live in? I think there are simple living values that Frances and I shared strongly.”

Woodring said she considers it an honor to be the first recipient of the award named for Crowe.

“She was a really brilliant, passionate, committed woman,” she said. “I’m very flattered that people see me at all with that kind of impact.”

Caltha Crowe, France Crowe’s daughter, said she believes Woodring embodies causes her mother cared about and championed, such as environmentalism and anti-war activism, making her a natural recipient of the award.

“I know that Frances would have been really pleased about it,” Caltha Crowe said.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.

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