Ordinary People, Extraordinary Acts of Courage

This summer at the 2011 Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis, 15 “unsung heroes” received the first Freedom from Fear Awards, honoring ordinary people who have committed extraordinary acts of courage on behalf of immigrants and refugees—individuals who have taken a risk, set an example, and inspired others to awareness or action.

The winners included four DREAM students who walked 1500 miles from Miami to Washington, D.C., to dramatize the barriers facing undocumented immigrants. (The Open Society Foundations supported the Trail of Dreams that the four students led). Also honored were two men—one American and one South Asian—who rescued trafficked guest workers from virtual servitude.

Also honored was a police chief who was vilified for speaking up against local enforcement of federal immigration laws and an African American legislator in the Deep South who helped pass a model anti-racial profiling ordinance, citing the unlawful targeting of immigrants in his state. Other winners were LGBTQ and undocumented youth who have spurred others to come out of the shadows.

The Freedom from Fear Award was created by philanthropic leaders Geri Mannion and Taryn Higashi as a way of “paying forward” $10,000 they received as co-recipients of the 2009 Robert W. Scrivner Award for Creative Grantmaking, presented by the Council on Foundations. Friends and colleagues, including staff at the Open Society Foundations, contributed additional funds to meet a $100,000 challenge grant from the W.K.Kellogg Foundation, thus enabling 15 winners to receive $5,000 each and a commissioned art piece. The awards were administered and produced by my organization, Public Interest Projects.

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