ADL honors civil rights icons

Five people received honors from the Anti- Defamation League for their sacrifices in the fight against hate.

Representative John R. Lewis 370 (photo credit:
Representative John R. Lewis 370
(photo credit:
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.
“I 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 posthumously.
Weeks after September 11, 2001, Pearl traveled to Pakistan to cover the fallout from the attacks in New York and Washington.
Seeking an interview with a Pakistani terrorist, he was kidnapped, and facing his death, Pearl was filmed declaring his proud status as a Jew.
In Kennedy’s theatre pews before the show began, Lewis greeted a group of students from Georgia who only knew their congressman by name.
The Anti-Defamation League has held 19 similar concerts in recent years.
The ADL, a nongovernmental organization, was originally founded in 1913 with a mission to fight anti-Semitism.
That mission has since been expanded to battle all forms of bigotry.