When you have an evening of true inspiration that reaffirms your faith in mankind and the core courageous values that make this nation great, you just have to share it. I had such a night during my first Jefferson Awards for Public Service in Washington D.C.
Their chairman, a charismatic entrepreneur and investor in Los Angeles, Joseph Sanberg, asked that I join this prestigious organization that awarded what is the equivalent of the Nobel prize for public service to the who's who of American history makers. I had not heard of it before but learned quickly of its seismic and historic significance across this nation.
The Jefferson Awards were created in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, U.S. Senator Robert Taft Jr. and Sam Beard to recognize national leaders who are change agents among us. Recipients include five Supreme Court Justices, Sandra Day O'Connor and Thurgood Marshall; seven Secretaries of State: Colin Powell and Cyrus Vance; Cesar Chavez, Oprah Winfrey and Peyton Manning.
But it's not just the famous; the awards also recognize every day folks who are colossal leaders among us who dedicate their lives quietly to the service of others in every corner of this country.
So moved by its mission and mandate, I of course agreed to serve on their board of Governors but had no idea how moved I would be watching dedicated folks, especially the youth across this great land, rise up to be recognized for great acts of kindness, ingenuity and innovation, all geared toward making life more dignified, decent and palatable for others less fortunate. I wept through much of the night.
The whole evening reaffirmed my faith in our core goodness as human beings and how youth particularly is reviving a core culture of service, volunteerism and sense of responsibility to our fellow man.
I learned so much about this incredible organization, how it identifies globe changers, enlists champions with thousands of employees, expands students in action to engage millions in student led service activities, all with measureable impact.
I was hooked and heartened by idealism in action making a difference across America.
But when Chairman Sanberg asked that I interview the two most recognized 2013 Jefferson Award recipients before receiving their accolades, the night took on a much deeper dimension for me.
They happened to be two iconic heroes of mine.
The first was Holocaust survivor, professor, author, Elie Wiesel, Nobel prize winner for literature and beacon of the human spirit.
The second was Dolores Huerta, the matriarch of the Farm Worker movement and one of the most inspiring Latinas and women civil rights champions of our time. Both in their 80's and yet in spirit, vibrant, relevant as ever and commanding.
I had no idea what a privilege both conversations would be.
Dolores Huerta reminisced about the day Robert Kennedy was shot, how she was just behind him that fateful day with so much promise and the pain she's carried since. All while Robert Kennedy's eldest daughter, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, hosting the event, sat nearby on stage with us and weighed in.
Dr. Wiesel spoke of life just beginning in his 80's with so much left to be done. He spoke of a choice made between anger and gratitude after liberation and the immense opportunity for compassion toward every human being no matter the evil we encounter. Most recently he said he was with President Obama and asked him what he would have done during Hitler's reign. His answer was
The conversations were too precious not to share and the Jefferson Awards too significant to contain in the nation's capitol. This night was a night for America as it celebrated the best of who we are and the best of our future to be.
I have included the Elie Wiesel interview here with this blog, as I was profoundly touched by his enduring faith in God and his ultimate faith in the goodness of human beings no matter the atrocities he has seen. Some things are just meant to be shared. This is one of them. The Dolores Huerta interview can be seen on the Jefferson Awards Website.
To learn more about the Jefferson Awards, log on to www.jeffersonawards.org