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Freedom Award

Celebrating a Legacy of Justice

Story by Bill Bannister  | Photos by Don Perry 

The 28th annual Freedom Award ceremony, presented by the National Civil Rights Museum, and was held at the Orpheum Theatre. More than 1,500 people dedicated to the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King arrived at the Halloran Center for the pre-show gala. Each had their own moment of fame as they walked down a special red carpet. Hors d’oeuvres were passed as guests enjoyed libations and mingled with dignitaries attending the event. There was a cornucopia of delicious foods provided by Big Momma’s and Granny’s Catering. Mouth-watering delights like blackened catfish and andouille potato hash with crawfish cream sauce were served up in special martini glasses, along with whiskey brown sugar ribs, crispy fried chicken, creamy mac and cheese, collard and kale greens, hot water cornbread and vegetarian paella. 

Since 1991, the Freedom Award has served as a symbol of the ongoing fight for human rights, both in America and around the world. Award recipients are celebrated for their tireless contributions in civil and human rights and for their dedication to creating opportunity for the disenfranchised. The many sponsors and individual patrons make the long-lasting impact of this signature fundraising event possible. Freedom Award recipients include Nelson Mandela, The Dalai Lama, Oprah Winfrey, Stevie Wonder, President Jimmy Carter, Colin Powell, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Harry Belafonte, Mikhail Gorbachev, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Sidney Poitier, and Marlo Thomas.

This year’s honorees included leading recording artist John Legend, who uses his influence and resources to promote social justice and equality. His recording “Preach” is aimed at a broken criminal justice system in dire need of reform. Also honored was Nigerian human rights, civil rights and democracy advocate Hafsat Abiola, who is President of Women of Africa. Her work is a tribute to her parents who lost their lives while leading the movement for democracy, which ended military rule in Nigeria in the 1990s. 2019 honoree Gloria Steinem, a legendary figure in the struggle for women’s rights, is also a prolific writer, lecturer and political activist. Additionally, she is a member of the Beyond Racism Initiative, a three-year effort on the part of activists in Brazil, South Africa and the USA to compare racial patterns and learn cross-nationally. This year’s award ceremony paid a special tribute to “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” which identified safe accommodations and services for African Americans who traveled during the segregated Jim Crow era. 

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