Unity Award Goes to Group Behind Film Series, New Scholarships Announced

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Watertown Cable Access The winners of the 2023 Unity Award, Epiteo Evans and Kara Salvi, who founded Race Reels in Watertown.

Most years the annual Unity Award goes to an individual who has made a difference in Watertown, but this year the committee gave it to a group that screens films locally that spark conversations about issues facing the community and the nation.

On Jan. 9, the pair behind Race Reels, Epiteo Evans and Kara Salvi, received the Unity Award at special event. The pair was also highlighted in the Unity Breakfast video celebration, which was presented by the World in Watertown.

The Unity Award recognizes an individual or group that has made an outstanding contribution to the community of Watertown by demonstrating a commitment to racial, social and economic justice, and by supporting the human rights of the city’s residents. For the first time this year the award was based on a set of criteria and voted on by a group that included the Unity Breakfast Planning Group and the Human Rights Commission Planning Group. 

Race Reels started two years ago, and was inspired by a similar series at Brookline High School, where Salvi works as a school counselor.

“Race Reels is essentially a monthly film series to provide a common experience through short films, short documentary films, that are about race and ethnicity,” Salvi said in an interview with World in Watertown President Xin Peng. “Each month we explore a different race or ethnic identity, and we bring in a guest speaker. We watch the movie, we do an activity, we do group discussions.”

When Evans heard about Salvi’s idea, she volunteered to help the effort.

“It was an excellent idea: an opportunity for people to come together and have some interesting conversation, fun conversations, maybe uncomfortable conversations, but just to have those conversations and educate people around issues of race and identity and ethnicity, and some of the challenges that people face from different ethnic backgrounds,” she said. “And, the coming together of the community around something like a film — it helps bring people together.”

The feedback has been positive from the people who attended the screenings. They started out at the Watertown Free Public Library, and more recently have had them at the Watertown Boys & Girls Club.

“People are glad we are doing it because it give them an opportunity to see films that maybe they would not otherwise see. Some films they have never heard of,” Evans said. “They get to hear form people like yourself who came and to speak, and other people from other ethnic backgrounds to get a better understanding of their culture. It also helps people who are able to relate to the films, that they have the feeling that I’m not alone in the struggle that I might have around race and identity.”

Salvi and Evans said that they get a few younger participants, but they would like to see more get involved, and perhaps get the schools to participate too.

Essay Contest Winners

The winners of the Unity Breakfast Martin Luther King Jr. Essay contest read their pieces during the event. The winner from Watertown Middle School was Tooba Amin, and the Watertown High School winner was Valerie Duong.

Watertown Cable Access Tooba Amin, the middle school winner of the Unity Breakfast’s Martin Luther King Jr. Essay Contest.

Amin wrote about her objection to laws in France banning the wearing of headscarfs by Muslim women in government buildings, including schools and universities. Those wearing them can be fined.

“Reflecting on the events in France and Dr. King’s words, I believe it is wrong to ban people’s freedom of expression. As a Muslim and a hijabi myself, I struggle with the hijab due to society’s norms. I am grateful to be able to express my religion without having to pay a fee or face legal consequences,” she said. “It’s truly heartbreaking to see other Muslims, specifically niquabis and hijabis, wanting to express their religion not being able to because of their government. Dr. King fought for these rights. He spoke up when he saw something wrong, and found ways to fix it.”

The inspiration for Duong’s essay was the Asian American Political Alliance, which was founded in 1968 by Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee. The group was the first to use the term Asian American to refer to people of Asian descent, rather than terms such as Oriental, which had negative connotations.

Watertown Cable Access The high school winner of the Unity Breakfast’s Martin Luther King Jr. Essay Contest, Valerie Duong.

Duong said Asian-American is an umbrella term for people who have ties to different countries or ethnic groups and allowed them to have more political voice by having a united voice. It also spawned terms for people from specific areas, such as Chinese-American, Filipino-American, or Vietnamese-American.

For Duong, who was born in the U.S. while parents were born in Vietnam, she said she feels most comfortable calling herself Vietnamese-American.

“I wouldn’t identify myself as fully Vietnamese because I have never been to the country and don’t fully understand the culture enough to let me identify myself as it. I also cannot identify as fully American, as my physical characteristics and little bit of Vietnamese culture I have don’t completely apply to some people’s perspective of American,” Duong said. “The arising name Asian-American gives me a comfortable and accurate term to use and breaks off the struggle of choosing between the other two identifications.”


Last year, the Unity Breakfast put a call out for donations to fund scholarships for “support those who are doing their part to further MLK’s and other civil right’s leaders vision for a more just and equitable society,” said Ben Jerome, a member of the Unity Breakfast Planning Committee.

This year, the group announced the start of two scholarships, one for a student and one for a community member.

The Unity Breakfast Visionary Award is a $1,500 award will be given in partnership with the Watertown Public Schools.

“The creation of this fund help us recognized upstanding young people in our community who show great promise as agents of change,” said Kimberlee Henry, the district’s Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging. “This award will not be tied to academic performance but rather will focus on the applicant’s commitment and engagement in the empowerment of historically marginalized individuals.” 

Superintendent Dede Galdston said more details about the award will be available in the spring when the district provides information about other scholarships.

The second award is the Watertown Community Visionary Award. The $1,500 award will be given this spring to encourage Watertown residents to continue their active engagement in social and economic justice issues and to carry on MLK’s legacy by combating intolerance and striving to create a positive change for a better world, Jerome said.

Applicants must have ties to Watertown and be at least 14 years of age. The application period is open until Feb. 15, 2023, Jerome said, and the recipient will be announced by the end of March. See more information about the Community Visionary Award by clicking here.

The video of the 2023 Watertown Unity Breakfast can be seen by clicking here. Other highlights include the keynote address by Clementina Chery, who founded the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute after the murder of her son in Boston; highlights of the art and musical celebration on Jan. 7 at Cunniff School (including performances by groups from Cunniff and Berklee College of Music); and a welcome from City Manager George Proakis.

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