AKRON "Tragedy is a very unique subject. It doesn’t see color, doesn’t see race. It doesn’t care how tall you are, how short you are, how innocent you are, how evil you are. Tragedy has united us. Tragedy has shown us that if we use it as a tool, we can develop it into our strengths."
These words come from Ammar Husein, the older brother of slain Springfield High graduate and University of Akron student Zakareia "Zak" Husein. Zak, 21, was killed in an armed robbery at his family-owned pizza shop in December 2015.
Ammar spoke to hundreds of people who gathered at the University of Akron to package meals for the hungry in honor of his brother, as well as 23-year-old Duncan Unternaher, a University of Akron student who was fatally stabbed by his roommate in December 2016.
Unternaher, a friend of Zak, had attended the first charity event that was organized following his colleague’s death. Now, the community honors them both —as well as any others who were lost from the university family — with an event called UA Remembrance Day, working with the non-profit organization "Rise Against Hunger" that coordinates the packaging and delivery of the food to distribute to developing areas around the world.
Music played in the Student Union ballroom as volunteers worked for a little over two hours to measure rice, seal bags and package boxes. A gong sounded each time the volunteers reached another benchmark in fulfilling their goal of 50,000 meals.
University of Akron student Kristin Genetin was the project leader for the Rise Against Hunger event and said it has been an ongoing effort by a committee since January.
"We had so many people collaborating amongst us, I cannot take the credit whatsoever. The committee was a huge success. Here we are tonight packaging over 50,000 meals to turn a tragedy into something good," Genetin said. "I’m just blown away by the turnout."
Associate professor of Marketing and International Business Douglas Hausknecht played a lead role in organizing the event and said everyone whom he has spoken with since has said how pleased they were with the sense of accomplishment.
"I think the event did what it was designed to do —it provided an opportunity for some healing and some sharing for those who miss loved ones, friends, and acquaintances," Hausknecht said.
Justin Cohen, a friend of Zak Husein and a UA student, was also heavily involved with organizing UA Remembrance Day, and said the event was powerful.
"If Zak were here, he would say life is precious. Live every moment you have with love and gratitude. Be forgiving to everybody — forgive yourself, forgive all those who have hurt you, and always extend your hand with compassion to those in need because everybody is a brother and sister," Cohen said. "Zak would say every moment you live, live it with love, with gratitude, forgiveness, compassion and prayer. And by doing that you are honoring and keeping both Zak and Duncan’s spirit alive."