Representative John R. Lewis 370.
(photo credit: imagelinkphoto.com)
WASHINGTON – At the Kennedy Center in Washington on Monday night, an eclectic
group of over two thousand Americans paused to celebrate five extraordinary
people with one thing in common: their sacrifices in the fight against hate have
left them icons.
Judy and Dennis Shepard, Georgia Representative John
Lewis, Jose Antonio Vargas and Daniel Pearl all received honors and fanfare from
the Anti- Defamation League as it ended its centennial celebration this week
with an uplifting concert.
The National Symphony Orchestra bestowed on
each recipient a poignant and accessible musical selection: famous pieces, some
classical and some pop-cultural, but all in major and with hopeful notes that
the ADL considers key to its message against all forms of hate.
believe that one person’s voice can make all the difference,” Abraham Foxman,
national director of the Anti- Defamation League, told The Jerusalem Post. “Each
of the individuals we recognized on our centennial have made a difference
through their actions and their caring, bringing us one step closer to the dream
of a world without hate.”
The honorees were each asked to stand, after
four actors explained to the crowd why their struggles mattered and were
deserving of praise.
Lewis, now a congressman of over 25 years, is one of
the few surviving leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. He was chairman of the
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at the age of 23, and was one of the
original Freedom Riders.
Lewis spoke at the March on Washington with
Martin Luther King, Jr. And in 1965, he led a march in Selma, Alabama that led
to the horrific, fully televised ‘Bloody Sunday’ beating of blacks by local
police – and the landmark Voting Rights Act.
Vargas, a former journalist,
lived for years under the fear of deportation as an undocumented immigrant in
the United States.
Despite having to hide his legal status, Vargas earned
himself successful positions in journalism – a platform that he ultimately used
to share his struggle through a groundbreaking piece that declared his status
and explained why Congress should act to grant recognition to those living
undocumented in America.
The Shepards lost their son, Matthew, after he
struggled with being gay in rural America.
His struggle was tragic, but
became a national trauma when, in 1998, two openly homophobic young men beat
Shepard to his death on the side of a Wyoming country road. Dennis Shepard urged
the local court to show his son’s killers a degree of mercy in sentencing. This
ultimately saved them from the death penalty. In the years since, the two
parents have successfully fought for legislation that recognizes hate crimes as
particularly heinous acts in the eyes of the law.
The fifth recognition
went to Pearl, a former journalist, who received his honor
Weeks after September 11, 2001, Pearl traveled to Pakistan
to cover the fallout from the attacks in New York and Washington.
an interview with a Pakistani terrorist, he was kidnapped, and facing his death,
Pearl was filmed declaring his proud status as a Jew.
theatre pews before the show began, Lewis greeted a group of students from
Georgia who only knew their congressman by name.
League has held 19 similar concerts in recent years.
The ADL, a
nongovernmental organization, was originally founded in 1913 with a mission to
That mission has since been expanded to battle all
forms of bigotry.