After watching her native Liberia devolve into a decadelong civil war in which violence, rape, and murder became part of daily life, Leymah Gbowee brought together several dozen women to pray for peace. That 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.
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
Thank you. Thank you all very much. Thank you to Caroline Kennedy and the Kennedy Library Foundation family. Before I say anything further, I’d like to pay tribute to two extraordinary American women, who, without their foresight, vision, and belief in the work that we did, we would not be standing here — my girlfriend and sister, Abigail Disney, my girlfriend and sister Gini Reticker, the producer and director of the award-winning documentary, Pray The Devil Back to Hell.
Even though when I heard the Disney name, I was wondering whether it would be animated cartoon characters. I’d also like to recognize two young ladies from Iowa. These two women, two very young girls got in touch with me a few months ago by email and said, “In the U.S., we do something called National History Day. And we want to chronicle your life and the story of the women of Liberia.”
Well, this is just something else again to do. So we started the journey of chronicling my life. They went to their local championship. They won because of the story they told. They went to their national championship. They won. And now they’re going to the state finals. And Abby was kind enough to fly these two young ladies here, too, and their teacher, to observe the ceremony. Emma and Katie and Lisa, can you just please stand?
Through the film, the trailer, a moment ago Caroline took you-- or she took some of my speech away. [laughter] But I’m still going to take you. Close your eyes and imagine a mother leaving her baby half dead by the roadside because she can’t stand to see that child died of hunger. Close your eyes and imagine a mother brutally raped and several objects inserted in her private. Close your eyes and imagine a group of fighters with guns, betting on the sex of the child of a pregnant woman, and in order to find out who wins the bet, cutting her and taking the child out. Close your eyes and imagine a group of women in white, no shoes, no -- the tattered ...(inaudible) under heavy rain trying to push a group of world leaders with a statement that, “We too have a stake in this peace process,” being pushed back by security because they were security threats to these world leaders.
Open your eyes and then close your eyes and dream of a world where babies no longer die by the roadside, where women are no longer brutally raped with impunity, where the U.N. is going into villages to find women from rural areas to sit at the peace table, where President Obama goes to Liberia and says, “I want to consult with the rural women first.” Do you see that future?
Open your eyes and come to Boston, Massachusetts, Profiles in Courage Awards, May 18, 2009. What is the meaning? What is the significance for us — Vaiba, Janet, Leymah, and the women of Liberia? This award is a call to action. This award is a call to invade spaces. This award is a call to infiltrate private homes, schools, public buildings, and international spaces. This award is a call to constructively interfere in the lives of women, children when the men are so preoccupied with taking power and taking it violently.
This award today has emboldened us to step out of our safe space, to step out of our boundaries, to step out of our poor homes and to step into Sudan and to step into Zimbabwe, to step into Sri Lanka, to step into Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and to step into schools in the Bronx, in Brooklyn, in other parts of New York. And to use the words of the great African-American freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman: “If you’re hungry, keep walking. If you’re thirsty, keep walking. If you want a taste of freedom, keep walking.”
For us women of Liberia, this award is a call that we will keep walking until peace, justice, and the rights of women is not a dream, but is a thing of the present. Thank you very much.
Remarks of Leymah Gbowee on accepting the 2009 Profile in Courage Award, May 18, 2009.
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.