This is what political courage looks like

By Alethea Harney, Director of Award Programs

So many of the public servants we’ve recognized with the Profile in Courage Award had to pave their own paths and challenge their friends and colleagues for the greater good.

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award was created in 1989 by members of President Kennedy’s family to honor President John F. Kennedy and to recognize and celebrate the quality of political courage that he admired most.

The award recognizes a public official (or officials) at the federal, state or local level whose actions demonstrate politically courageous leadership in the spirit of Profiles in Courage, President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer prize-winning book, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. Senators who risked their careers to do what was right, not what was popular.

Profile in Courage Award recipients are people whose legacy can inspire all of us, including public servants, to follow their conscience.

Here are just five:

1. Elizabeth Redenbaugh opposed a redistricting plan in Wilmington that appeared likely to result in more socioeconomic and racial segregation in the community’s middle schools. “I stand firm in the conviction that separate will never be equal,” she said.

2. Our 2015 Profile in Courage Award recipient, Bob Inglis, sacrificed his seat in Congress when he went against his party and reversed his position on climate change to say it’s caused by man-made factors. He challenged politicians to look beyond their differences and work together on the most pressing issues of our time.

3. Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and her colleagues risked their lives to stop the cycle of violence and oppression that kept dictators and warlords in power for decades. Together, they launched a movement for peace to help put an end to Liberia’s civil war. Gbowee said: “We will keep walking until peace, justice, and the rights of women is not a dream, but is a thing of the present.”

4. Gabrielle Giffords, our 2013 recipient, was shot at point-blank range at a 2011 meeting with constituents. She nearly didn’t survive; six others died in the attack. Giffords recovered and turned trauma into a political movement to found Americans for Responsible Solutions to bring common-sense gun laws to America.

“It’s been a hard two years for me,” Giffords said in 2013. “But I want to make the world a better place.”

5. Public servants in New York and in Washington D.C. put everything on the line to save lives following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Emergency responders entered the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon knowing well that they may not make it back out. Many lost their lives — but they didn’t think twice about helping as many people as possible.

From civil rights to climate change and women’s rights, we can find public servants practicing political courage everywhere.

As you reflect on these past recipients, who do you think should receive the 2017 Profile in Courage Award?

With the nomination process in full swing for the next Profile in Courage Award, we want to hear from you: Tell us about a public servant who embodies the principles of doing what is right, not what is popular.

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