Federal Officials who Championed Fiscal Responsibility Honored with 2009 JFK Profile in Courage Award
-- Peace Activists of Liberia Recognized for Courage --
Boston, MA, May 18, 2009 – Sheila Bair, chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and Brooksley Born, former chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), were presented the prestigious John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™ today by Caroline Kennedy at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in recognition of the political courage each demonstrated in sounding early warnings about conditions that contributed to the current global financial crisis.
Also honored as profiles in courage at today’s ceremony were Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and the many women who worked with her in pushing for peace and paving the way for democracy after years of violent conflict in their country. Gbowee was joined by Vaiba Flomo and Janet Johnson Bryant in accepting the award on behalf of their countrywomen.
“Sheila Bair, Brooksley Born and Leymah Gbowee and her countrywomen all share uncommon courage,” said Caroline Kennedy, President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. “From the corridors of wealth and power in the United States government, to the violent and impoverished streets of Liberia these women were not afraid to risk their careers, their relationships, their reputations, and even their lives, to speak truth to power and advocate for the powerless millions they represented. As appointed officials and citizen activists, they have inspired all those who wish to bring about meaningful change to their political systems.
“Sheila Bair and Brooksley Born recognized that the financial security of all Americans was being put at risk by the greed, negligence and opposition of powerful and well connected interests,” Kennedy said.” The catastrophic financial events of recent months have proved them right. Although their warnings were ignored at the time, the American people should be reassured that there are far-sighted public servants at all levels of government who act on principle to protect the people’s interests.
“Leymah Gbowee and the women of Liberia assumed personal responsibility for their national destiny, demonstrating the power of citizen activism to change history,” Kennedy continued. “By bringing together women of all religions, ethnic groups and walks of life, to stand up, sit in, and speak out against violence and in favor of peace, reconciliation and progress, they played a crucial role in restoring democracy to their war-torn country. The election of the first woman head of state in Africa – President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf – is due in no small part to these courageous women. They have shown the world the power of women’s voices united for peace, inspired citizens around the world, and empowered women to seek political change.”
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.
Sheila Bair, Chair, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
Sheila Bair has been called a “lone voice in the wilderness” for her early warnings about the sub-prime lending crisis and for her dogged criticism of both Wall Street’s and the government’s management of the subsequent financial meltdown. As early as 2001, Bair was urging sub-prime lenders to agree on a set of best practices to prevent abuses. Since the onset of the current crisis, she, more than any other government official, has pushed for direct assistance to distressed homeowners as part of the overall effort to stabilize the financial system, a move fiercely resisted by many leaders in both the public and the private sectors. Recently, however, the government has begun to implement many of her mortgage-modification proposals in an effort to slow the alarming increase in foreclosures. Sheila C. Bair was sworn in as the 19th Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) on June 26, 2006, and is currently serving a five-year term.
Brooksley Born, Former Chair, Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC)
In 1998, as chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Brooksley Born unsuccessfully tried to bring over-the-counter financial derivatives under the regulatory control of the CFTC. The government’s failure to regulate such financial deals has been widely criticized as one of the causes of the current financial crisis. In the booming economic climate of the 1990’s, Born battled other regulators in the Clinton Administration, skeptical members of Congress and lobbyists over the regulation of derivatives, warning that unregulated financial contracts such as credit default swaps could pose grave dangers to the economy. Her efforts brought fierce opposition from Wall Street and from Administration officials who believed deregulation was essential to the extraordinary economic growth that was then in full bloom.
Her adversaries eventually passed legislation prohibiting the CFTC from any oversight of financial derivatives during her term. She stepped down from the CFTC in 1999 and returned to a distinguished career in public interest law.
Leymah Gbowee and the Women Peace Activists of Liberia
Leymah Gbowee, Janet Johnson Bryant and Vaiba Flomo accepted the Profile in Courage Award on behalf of the women of Liberia. After watching her native Liberia devolve into a decade-long civil war in which violence, rape, and murder became part of daily life, Leymah Gbowee brought together several dozen women to pray for peace. This effort launched a movement of ordinary Christian and Muslim women who rose up together to help put an end to Liberia’s civil war. Gbowee and her colleagues – among them, Janet Johnson Bryant, Vaiba Flomo, Yatta Moore, and Etty Weah – risked their lives to stop the cycle of violence and oppression that had kept dictators and warlords in power for decades. Their remarkable struggle for peace eventually paved the way for the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to the presidency of Liberia – the first democratic election of a female head of state anywhere in Africa. This extraordinary story of courage is told in the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts was presented the 2009 Profile in Courage Award on March 8, 2009 by his niece Caroline Kennedy during a star-studded celebration of the Senator’s 77th birthday at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. Kennedy, who is nominated every year for the award that celebrates his brother’s legacy, was not eligible for the honor while he served on the Profile in Courage Award selection committee. This year, members of the bipartisan award committee were unanimous in their decision to present Senator Kennedy with the award.
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. Al Hunt, Washington managing editor of Bloomberg News, chairs the 14-member Profile in Courage Award Committee. Committee members are Michael Beschloss, author and presidential historian; David Burke, former president of CBS News; U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi); Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund; 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., chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Shari Redstone, President, National Amusements, Inc; John Seigenthaler, founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University; U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); and Patricia M. Wald, former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. John Shattuck, chief executive officer of the Kennedy Library Foundation, staffs the Committee. Mr. Shattuck is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and a former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic.
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.
Further Information: Rachel Day (617) 514-1662