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NAACP Freedom Fund Award
October 24, 2008
Good evening—thank you, Carol, for your kind introduction. I would like to express my deep appreciation to the NAACP Houston Branch for honoring me with your distinguished “Presidential Award”. It is indeed a pleasure to be recognized along with such an esteemed group of honorees.
Throughout my life, the letters NAACP have always symbolized an embracing organization which works to assure justice and equality for all people in every aspect of life—learning and growing from the past—enabling us to move forward to even greater accomplishments.
Education is the key to breaking down barriers, opening doors, and creating opportunities for all. It empowers both young and old alike to realize their hopes and dreams. As my friend, legendary world leader Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
For me, volunteerism transcends politics, race, and religion. Among the many charitable causes that have touched my heart is my work with the Texas Defenders Service and the Texas Innocence Network which provides legal counsel for those on death row who are innocent.
For 21 years I have volunteered with UNICEF to raise funds for the prevention of HIV/AIDS, and other child survival programs including the education of women and children throughout developing nations. For the first time in UNICEF's 60 year history, after Hurricane Katrina, the United States Government requested UNICEF assistance. UNICEF shipped enough educational and recreational supplies for 350,000 children and teachers, and the NAACP was our partner on the ground distributing the emergency supplies to schools throughout the Gulf Coast Region—including Houston.
I have also had the privilege of working with the noted playwright Celeste Walker to help bring the Buffalo Soldier story to the world. The Buffalo Soldier Mutiny film will be shown at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston on February 21 st and 22 nd , 2009. This incident is what started the NAACP in Houston in 1918. The Buffalo Soldiers were true American heroes, deserving of their rightful place in history.
After the Challenger Space tragedy in 1986, I was contacted by the Challenger widows and their families to create a legacy for space science technology, so that the future Mae Jemisons of our country could have the opportunity to become astronauts exploring space and helping to find cures for diseases and making other discoveries for the good of humanity. There are now 56 Challenger Learning Centers around the world—and I take great pride in knowing that I played a role in helping to heal the grief of our nation and paving the way for future generations to advance space science technologies.
Each of us has a calling in life. We never know when it will come to us or where we will find it. For me, the qualities of caring and sharing grew out of the spirit endowed by my beloved Grandfather, Jakie Freedman. My Grandfather was a charismatic, larger than life Russian immigrant who came to America to pursue his dream. His wisdom taught me—“If you believe you can—you will”. As Gandhi said, “A man is but the product of his thoughts—what he thinks he becomes”.
So, to all of you here tonight, I encourage you to follow your dreams, and know that you can become whatever you want.
Thank you my friends of the NAACP for this most memorable evening—and for being such a powerful voice and conscience in our community, nation, and the world.