Remarks by Caroline Kennedy

It’s an honor to be here this morning to present the 2009 Profile in Courage Awards, and a special honor to present the awards to three women who have inspired all those who seek to bring about change in their political system. We honor Shelia Bair, Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Brooksley Born, former Chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian peace activist and the women who worked with her, including Vaiba Flomo and Janet Johnson Bryant, who are also here with us today.

These annual awards were first presented 19 years ago as a special tribute to my father, President Kennedy, and they are named after the famous brook he wrote in 1957. They honor the high ideals which inspired his own public life. He believed very deeply that public service is a noble profession, in large part because it often demands courage to do the right thing in the face of intense opposition. He understood that America would not be America without courageous officials willing to go against the grain, and he was constantly concerned that such courage so often seemed absent in public life.

These awards are our effort to pay tribute to the very best in contemporary public service in the United States and around the world and they mean a great deal to all of us in the Kennedy family. We salute this year’s honorees, and we commend them for their courage....

In 1980, a violent coup by Samuel Doe ushered in an era of human rights abuses and ethnic violence in Liberia that erupted into full-scale civil war in 1989. In 1997, after a brief ceasefire, Charles Taylor’s presidency brought a new period of war and chaos. As Taylor’s forces fought rebel warlords to retain power, Liberia descended again into violence and suffering. Liberia’s children suffered the most. They were recruited as child soldiers, taken from their families, and often maimed or killed.

Leymah Gbowee got tired of watching her children suffer. One night, she had a dream in which the women of Liberia gathered to pray for peace. Inspired by her dream, she organized a group of women from Christian churches to call for peace. That small act of courage started a movement that spread from woman to woman, from faith to faith, and from family to family. Vaiba Flomo worked with Leymah to bring Christian and Muslim women together. Janet Johnson Bryant broadcast the women’s activities on the radio, to spread the word. Together, the women of Liberia stood up to violent warlords and the Charles Taylor regime, armed only with the white t-shirts on their backs.

In 2003, amid unspeakable violence and against staggering odds, the women of Liberia secured peace for their children and their country. Their courage has inspired the world. It has given hope to the hopeless, and strength to countless others weakened by war and civil strife. Their courage has given the women of the world a blueprint for meaningful political change.

It is my honor to present the 2009 Profile in Courage Award to Leymah Gbowee, Vaiba Flomo, Janet Johnson Bryant, and all the women of Liberia.

Remarks delivered by Caroline Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Library Foundation, in presenting the 2009 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Awards, March 18, 2009.