February 27, 2007

Joining the fight

CHS students speak out about Darfur genocide


Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland High School juniors Jamilla Fort and David O’Donnell tape posters and photos to the windows outside the lunchroom at the school Monday morning. The two have been instrumental in organizing a “Save Darfur” campaign to raise money for the struggling area of the Sudan.

Staff Reporter

Marissa Mastronardi did not know genocide and rapes were taking place in Sudan until she learned about them in her social studies class on Monday. Now she wants to spread the word about what is going on.
“We should make it such a big deal that (politicians) have to do something,” said Mastronardi, a freshman at Cortland High School. “We should get the population to gang up on them.”
Mastronardi ’s new awareness is something that Jamilla Fort and David O’Donnell, two juniors at Cortland High, are trying to foster within the student body as a whole. Their interest in helping victims of violence in the Darfur region of Sudan sparked them to get all social studies teachers to discuss the situation Monday and to sell bracelets to raise money for Darfur victims.
The Darfur region is located in the western and southwestern parts of Sudan. In 2003, ethnic African tribesmen there took up arms, complaining of decades of discrimination and neglect by their government.
Since then, more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million forced from their homes.
O’Donnell, 16, said he first became interested in learning about the region when he saw a picture of a woman from Darfur and her baby in his social studies classroom.
The picture drove him to learn all he could about Darfur, recruit his best friend, Fort, 17, to do the same and to ask their social studies teacher, Christine Gregory, if they could spread the word to the school.
“I don’t think that most students watch the news at night,” O’Donnell said.
Gregory took the students’ request seriously and got the OK from the social studies department for all social studies teachers to spend one day talking about Darfur.
In Bob Edwards’ ninth-grade global studies class Monday, students reacted strongly to knowledge that people in northern Sudan are killing people in southern Sudan because of their race.
Maya Gebardt, 15, said the situation in Sudan makes her think of the Holocaust, when Jews were killed for the mere reason of being Jews.
She said Americans should start speaking out against the violence now, instead of waiting almost 10 years as they did during the Holocaust.
“We can’t let that happen again,” she said.
Edwards asked students in what concrete ways can they speak out against what is happening in Sudan.
Students’ ideas ranged from writing letters to politicians, to educating others to encouraging the news media to bring the issue to the forefront.
Courtney Tennant, 14, said the issue should be raised in popular television shows that people watch and are influenced by. That’s how she learned about the issue, she said.
“I learned about it in ‘7th Heaven,’” she said, referring to the television show on the CW Network.
O’Donnell and Fort spent their lunch break Monday selling green rubber bracelets with “Save Darfur” printed on them, while other student volunteers manned the table the rest of the day.
The bracelets cost $3 apiece, and half the money raised will go to humanitarian efforts for Sudanese refugees and the other half to advocacy efforts for the Save Darfur Coalition.
Other schools across the country are doing similar fundraisers, they said.
O’Donnell said Monday during lunch that not many students had yet bought the bracelets, but that more and more should do so once they learn about the injustices in Darfur.
“I think more people will come tomorrow,” he said.
Staff reporter Sasha Austrie contributed to this article.



Avery remembered as dedicated judge


Staff Reporter

A dedicated judge, a talented lawyer, a great husband, father and family man — all are used to describe Emerson R. Avery Jr., a former Cortland County judge who died Sunday at the age of 52 after a debilitating illness.
But “unbeatable foosball player?”
“You could not beat Emerson — he could beat you one-handed, against two people — he was a foosball player to the 10th degree,” said John Wickwire, a longtime friend. “Emerson was just a great friend, a joy to be around.”
The image friends and colleagues paint of Avery is a dual one: a fun-loving cutup who enjoyed countless memorable weekends fishing in Canada or scuba-diving with friends, and a professional who took seriously the responsibilities that come with practicing law.
“I can remember at the end of a long day, him and I talking, and I remember how troubled Emerson seemed; he was really struggling with whether he’d made the right decision (regarding the placement of a juvenile in a detention facility),” said County Judge William Ames. “That’s just the way he was — very diligent, very earnest in his work.”
Ames called Avery “one of the hardest working judges I’ve ever known, certainly one of the best,” and credited Avery with essentially creating his job, a second county judgeship that Ames filled in 1999.
“There was always traditionally just one county judge, but after Emerson was elected he lobbied hard with the local Legislature and with Albany to create a second judgeship — he could see the way the numbers were going, that we needed that,” Ames said.
Before the second judge was added, a petition in Family Court might not have gone before a judge for five or six weeks, Ames said. Now most petitions are heard in a matter of days.
“It’s really been a godsend for the people of Cortland. We’re really providing more efficient service, and that’s all because of Judge Avery,” Ames said.
Avery, a Homer native, served as both an assistant district attorney and a public defender for the county, before running for county judge in 1995.
A Republican running without the support of his party, which had endorsed another candidate, Avery’s decision to run as the underdog and his ability to ultimately win were admirable, said attorney Don Armstrong, a close friend who worked on Avery’s campaign.
“He had practiced with his father (Emerson Avery Sr.) for years, and I think he was torn because he didn’t want to give that up, and he knew that running for office can take a toll on your family,” Armstrong said. “But Emerson just felt strongly that he had something to offer the community, and I think it was remarkable that he put himself out there and took that chance.”
Avery was able to overcome the lack of party support because of his close ties to the community, said Marty Mack, one of his closest friends.
“He was such an outgoing guy, he was so committed to community service most of the community already knew him; they knew his qualities and knew he’d give every case the attention it deserved,” said Mack, who now works in Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s administration.
Avery was also someone who, although he was interested and participated in the political process, was not confined by party politics, Mack pointed out.
During Mack’s run for mayor in 1987, Avery served as campaign manager, and once Mack was elected, Avery was appointed the city’s corporation council.
“That raised a bit of a fuss because some people felt that a Democratic mayor shouldn’t be appointing a Republican, but Emerson was someone I trusted,” Mack said. “I think the fact that Emerson, even supporting someone for mayor, wasn’t looking at party affiliation, really set the tone we were going for at that time.”
Avery and Mack became friends when the two were not long removed from law school, Avery a public defender and Mack an assistant district attorney.
“I got to know him kicking around the courts late at night, and we got to be close,” Mack said.
The two, along with Armstrong and a handful of other close friends, became avid scuba divers, hunters — “He was the hunter, I was more of a distraction,” Mack said. — and went on annual fishing trips to a family fishing camp in Canada that Avery treasured.
“He had a sign up there that said, ‘Heaven on Earth,’ and to him, to his dad, to anyone lucky enough to be brought up there, that’s what it was,” Armstrong said.
All of Avery’s friends said that, although he always took his work seriously, he also possessed a hearty and sometimes wicked sense of humor.
“He was a great practical joker,” Ames said. “We’d receive court orders, I don’t know how many a day, and he’d always stick things in my pile to slow me down, give me a hard time.”
An undisclosed illness forced Avery to step down from his judgeship in 2003, with three years remaining on his 10-year term. Mack called his shortened career, and life, tragic, but said that Avery would leave a lasting legacy.
“First and foremost, he was just a terrific public servant in every sense of the word,” Mack said. “He was always enthusiastic and energetic, always joyful, and he really gave everything, 100 percent, to whatever he was taking on.”


Bertini to receive lifetime award

Staff Reporter

A Cortland resident who has spent the past 20 years championing child nutrition will receive a lifetime achievement award on March 6.
Catherine Bertini will receive the 2007 Gene White Lifetime Achievement Award for Child Nutrition at the fourth annual A Possible Dream Gala at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.
Bertini, who is 56 and lives in Cortland, said she is honored. Some of her friends have teased her about getting a lifetime achievement award, she said.
“They didn’t know if I was old enough for a lifetime achievement award,” she said.
Bertini’s contributions began with her appointment as assistant secretary of agriculture for Food and Consumer Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture under George H.W. Bush, and as acting assistant secretary of the Family Support Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the Reagan administration.
In 1992, Bertini was appointed executive director of the United Nations’ World Food Programme, the world’s largest international humanitarian agency. She is credited with helping victims of wars and national disasters throughout the developing world.
Bertini then accepted the appointment to serve as the U.N.’s undersecretary-general for management. In this position, she focused on improving communication and information technology, intensifying efforts to recruit more women to the U.N. staff and to revamp the budget process.
Bertini was named the World Food Prize 2003 Laureate for transforming the World Food Programme from a development assistance program to the largest and most effective humanitarian food relief organization.
She used the $250,000 award to create a trust fund for girls’ education through the Friends of the World Food Programme.
In 2005, following 12 years of service at the U.N., she accepted a position at Syracuse University as a professor of public administration.
Bertini said this morning she enjoys her teaching job and intends to stay there for a while.
“They’re very bright and very exciting to be around,” she said about her students.
Bertini is teaching a class on humanitarian action and a class on girls’ education in developing countries. She said other semesters she teaches a class on the United Nations.
Bertini also serves on the board of directors for Tupperware and on the board of International Food and Agriculture Development.
She said she recently finished up her term as chair of the United Nations Nutrition Committee and as co-chair of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Agricultural Task Force for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
She is helping Syracuse University set up a center for girls’ education to do research and help monitor the status of girls’ education around the world.
“I try to keep busy using my experience,” she said.