Special #kNOwHATE Award
Gideon & Jeanne Pepper Bernstein (Orange County) – At the beginning of 2018, Jeanne and Gideon Bernstein experienced an unthinkable loss when their 19 year old son Blaze, returned to Orange County for winter break from the University of Pennsylvania and was violently murdered days before he was supposed to return to school. A former high school classmate of their son’s was charged with a Hate crime and awaits trial. During Blaze’s disappearance, the Bernsteins motivated by grief, began changing lives when they took this inexplicable act of violence and turned it into a cause based on decency, compassion and caring. How do you channel crushing grief into affirmative acts of kindness? How do you move forward without forgetting? The Bernsteins offered us answers to these difficult questions. They have harnessed their pain and used it to create what has become a nationwide movement dedicated to choosing love and kindness over hate and resentment. “…Their energies have instead been directed toward honoring their son and inspiring others to use his memory as an impetus to do good deeds.” (Patrice Apadoca, LA Times 1/22/19). They have done this through the #BlazeItForward movement and a community in a Facebook group by the same name that has over 26,000 members and growing. Honoring their son can be done in different ways through intentional acts of kindness and through other initiatives of #BlazeitForward described on their website.
That year, Orange County schools and community based organizations invited them to present their campaign and share their story. They took part in the 2018 and 2019 OC Pride LGBT parades that were dedicated to their son. They also served as keynote speakers for the OC Human Relations Annual Youth Conference-Walk In My Shoes, Anti-Defamation League, Wave (Women for American Values and Ethics), and the LGBTQ Center of Orange County.
The #BlazeItForward Campaign has positively impacted victims and potential victims of hate crimes based on sexual orientation, religion and race through their education initiatives. It has also provided heroic guidance and inspiration for those looking to redirect their pain and suffering from loss into love, kindness and activism. The #BlazeitForward Facebook group is an ongoing source of inspiration and examples of community-based acts of kindness. The Bernsteins also created a memorial fund in Blaze’s name that is responsible for endowments to the Orange County School of the Arts, the University of Pennsylvania writing program, the Blaze Bernstein Culinary Institute at the Jewish Community Center of Orange County, an endowed college fund awarded yearly that grants to students that demonstrate a desire to repair the world and donations have been made to Children’s Hospital of Orange County, the National Association of Mental Illness and the Anti-Defamation League.
Through Jeanne and Gideon’s effort to honor their son with the #BlazeitForward movement, thousands of youth in Orange County saw the impact of choosing to love and act kindly and learned how to respond to acts of hate in their communities. The #BlazeitForward movement inspired high school programs at the Newport Harbor High School and Orange County School of the Arts where students have been creating community service based clubs that celebrate diversity and inclusion. Thanks to Jeanne and Gideon, Orange County and our world continues to receive the enriching message that choosing kindness over hate is a powerful way to repair our world.
About the Award
Occasionally, OC Human Relations recognizes groups or individuals with Special Awards, if their contributions are unique and do not fit within one of the usual categories.
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