Award Announcement

North Carolina School Board Member and Egyptian Activist Honored with John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award

Boston MA – Elizabeth Redenbaugh, a New Hanover County, North Carolina School Board member who stood up against what she perceived as racial segregation in school redistricting plans, and Wael Ghonim and the people of Egypt, whose courageous demand for democratic reform inspired similar movements across the Middle East, were presented the prestigious John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™ today by Caroline Kennedy at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

“As we mark the 50th anniversary of my father’s presidency, our honorees bear witness to his belief in the power of individual acts of courage to hold us to our shared values, and to change the world,” said Caroline Kennedy, President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. “Elizabeth Redenbaugh's courageous vote reminded us all that education is the civil rights issue of our time, and that every child has the right to the American dream. Wael Ghonim and the people of Egypt used the power of citizen activism to break down barriers of isolation and fear, and enable hundreds of thousands of men and women to seek a democratic future.”

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™ is presented annually to public servants who have made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences. The award is named for President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers, incurring the wrath of constituents or powerful interest groups, by taking principled stands for unpopular positions. The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation created the Profile in Courage Award™ in 1989 to honor President Kennedy’s commitment and contribution to public service. It is presented in May in celebration of President Kennedy’s May 29th birthday. The Profile in Courage Award is represented by a sterling-silver lantern symbolizing a beacon of hope. The lantern was designed by Edwin Schlossberg and crafted by Tiffany & Co.

Elizabeth Redenbaugh, School Board Member, New Hanover County, North Carolina
An active school volunteer for years, Elizabeth Redenbaugh was sworn in as a member of North Carolina’s New Hanover County School Board in December 2008. A few months after she was elected, the school board began contemplating a redistricting plan that appeared likely to result in increased socioeconomic and racial segregation in Wilmington middle schools. Supporters of the measure argued that the proposed changes were intended to preserve neighborhood schools, safety, community, and the quality of education throughout the county. Others who supported the measure asserted that desegregation via busing simply had not worked.

The local paper ran a strongly worded op-ed by Redenbaugh in which she challenged the ideas put forth by proponents of the plan. “I cannot vote in favor of any redistricting plan where the overwhelming majority of students at any given school qualify for free or reduced lunch.” She pointed out that the proposed “neighborhood schools” map would concentrate poor and, overwhelmingly, black children in several schools, setting them up for failure, and that she “could not in good conscience send any child from any background to a school” that data suggested was likely to fail. “I believe each and every one of our schools can be a high-achieving school,” she wrote. “Is redistricting based upon socioeconomic status the panacea? No, but it is a good start.”

Wilmington parents were bitterly divided over the plan. In early 2010, after a contentious community debate, the school board voted 4-3 to approve the new map. Redenbaugh was the only Republican and the only white member of the school board to vote against the plan. In the ensuing weeks, parents bombarded the school board with complaints about last-minute provisions that had not been publicly debated. The school board reopened discussions over a slightly revised middle school map, but after a second debate no less heated than the first, the board approved the revised map by the same 4-3 margin as it had approved the original plan. Once again, Elizabeth Redenbaugh was the only Republican and the only white school board member to dissent.

In October 2010, the state of North Carolina asked New Hanover County to sign an affidavit certifying that it was not intentionally segregating county schools based on race or socioeconomic status. Redenbaugh opposed the school board’s decision to certify the affidavit. The board approved the certification anyway, saying that if indeed segregation happened, it was unintentional. Elizabeth Redenbaugh will stand for re-election to the New Hanover County school board in 2012.

Wael Ghonim and the People of Egypt
Wael Ghonim received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in the name of the People of Egypt.

In June 2010, in response to the ruthless killing of Alexandria businessman Khaled Said by Egyptian police, Wael Ghonim, an Egyptian Google executive living and working in Dubai, anonymously launched a Facebook page, “We are all Khaled Said,” to condemn the killing. Even anonymous criticism of the repressive regime of longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was uncommon; police brutality and torture of both dissidents and ordinary citizens was widespread in Egypt. Ghonim’s anonymous protest page quickly became a popular and powerful tool for Egyptian activists seeking to mobilize public opposition to human rights abuses.

In January 2011, inspired by the popular uprising in Tunisia that brought down the repressive and long-ruling regime there, Ghonim and other activists used social media to call upon Egyptians to launch their own large-scale pro-democracy protests. On January 25, in response to activists’ call for a “Day of Revolt,” tens of thousands of ordinary Egyptians joined protests and demonstrations throughout Egypt. In Cairo, Ghonim was among the demonstrators.

The demonstrations of January 25 sparked an unprecedented outpouring of anger and resolve in which Egyptians abandoned their fear and gathered together to stand up for themselves and their country. Egyptian women, long accustomed to staying silent, became key players in the protests. When government security forces resorted to violence in a bid to stifle the movement, Egyptians from all walks of life courageously stood their ground. Hundreds were killed and thousands were injured. Key activists began to disappear. But the demonstrations continued, the people undeterred. On January 28, Wael Ghonim went missing. Twelve days later, under heavy international pressure, the Egyptian police released him unharmed. He immediately returned to Tahrir Square, where his courageous appearance galvanized and strengthened the protest movement. Three days later, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak fled the capitol.

The 2011 Profile in Courage Award is presented to Wael Ghonim in honor of all Egyptians who stood up, at great personal risk, for the principles of democracy and self-governance. They have all set a powerful example of political courage that inspires the world.

This year’s recipients of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s prestigious award for political courage were selected by a distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders. Albert R. Hunt, executive Washington editor of Bloomberg News, chairs the 13-member Profile in Courage Award Committee. Committee members are U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi); U.S. Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards (D-Maryland); Kenneth R. Feinberg, Chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; U.S. Senator Lindsey O. Graham (R-South Carolina); Antonia Hernandez, president and chief executive officer of the California Community Foundation; Elaine Jones, former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Paul G. Kirk, Jr., former U.S. Senator (D-Massachusetts) and Chairman Emeritus of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Martha Minow, Dean and Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; Shari Redstone, President, National Amusements, Inc; John Seigenthaler, founder of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University; David M. Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); and Patricia M. Wald, former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Tom McNaught, executive director of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and Anne Aaron, Director of the Profile in Courage Award Program, staff the Committee.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Presidential Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service. For more information about the Profile in Courage Award and the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, visit www.jfklibrary.org.