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Henry Hedman

Henry Matti Vihtori Hedman
Born March 8, 1952, Riihimäki

Master of Religion Education 1994, Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia (B.C.)
Studies for a Bachelor of Theology in 1977–1978, Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas
Vocational qualification in business and administration 1971, Riihimäki Business College

University Instructor, Romani and Roma culture, University of Helsinki
Musician, non-fiction author, theologist and translator

Researcher, Centre for the Languages of Finland 2002–2012
Executive manager, Romano Missio ry 1996–2000

Publications, research projects and other academic activities (linkiksi: http://tuhat.halvi.helsinki.fi/portal/en/person/hmhedma)

Awards and memberships in organizations
Advisory board on Roma Affairs, member 1986-, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, member of the Committee, appointed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland 2012-
Member of MG-S-Rom, a Council of Europe Group of Specialists 2002–2010
Awarded for work on materials and education in Romani by the National Board of Education and the Advisory Board on Roma Affairs, 2010
Person of the year in Riihimäki, 2001

Written by Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta
Translated by Olli Silvennoinen

A Roma boy who became an academic

The Finnish Roma community has a 500-year history behind it. From the beginning, it has faced periods of collective doubt and criticism of its differences from the mainstream. Henry Hedman grew up in Riihimäki, where his father had worked hard for the acceptance of his Roma background. The family led a perfectly ordinary life in the midst of the majority population.

Hedman went to middle school in Riihimäki. When he was 16, he had a strong spiritual awakening in the Pentecostal movement and wanted to become a missionary to preach the message of the Bible. However, a Kenyan missionary who was working in Finland advised him to get a good job. Hedman took the advice, acquiring a vocational qualification in Business and Administration in his home town before going abroad. Theology seemed interesting, so Hedman began studying for a bachelor’s degree in the United States in the late 1970s.

– After studying for the degree of Bachelor of Theology, I wanted to continue my studies. In 1992 I was wandering around the US and Canada for a while until an acquaintance recommended a university in Toronto. I was admitted to it and graduated with a Master of Religion Education in 1994. My degree has been checked by the Faculty of Theology at Helsinki University and the National Board of Education has recognized it as equivalent to a Finnish Master of Theology on March 20, 1995.

Graduation Day, Vancouver 1994.​
Graduation Day, Vancouver 1994.​

After returning to Finland, Hedman has done teacher training and other studies alongside his work. In autumn 2014, he was admitted as a post-graduate student in the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences at the University of Helsinki. The topic of his dissertation is the maintenance of Roma culture in exogamic relationships.

– In addition to the other aspects of Roma culture, my dissertation also involves language. I want to find out how Romani is used in relationships in which only one person is a Roma. I have already collected data from around 40 families. I am also investigating how the families define the practice of Roma culture and how the children acquire it. The challenges of the study include how to measure these things and how each feature is defined as belonging to either culture.

Hedman admits that he has faced situations in which he has had to prove his competence and reliability.

– I haven’t faced that much racism. If I have, then there’s not much I can do about it. For example, when I have applied for a job and my background has come up, the look on the other person’s eyes has revealed that the door is locked. Usually when I talk to people openly, they realize that I’m a normal person. I always laugh when someone is wondering: “Oh, you go to work? Oh, you have a degree as well? You’re completely normal, then.”

Hedman believes that his positive outlook on life and his perseverance in trying to reach different things are a result of his up-bringing and the support he has received from different quarters.

– My father taught me to respect all people. That is what I’ve tried to do my whole life. That also makes me want to do PR work for the Roma community. I’m grateful to my home town for the support and recognition I’ve received. I was awarded Person of the Year in Riihimäki in 2001. That still feels great.

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