A North Carolina school board member who fought redistricting plans because of racial segregation concerns and a Google executive who launched a Facebook page that sparked protests in Egypt were given the annual John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award on Monday.
Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President John F. Kennedy, presented the awards to Elizabeth Redenbaugh and Wael Ghonim, who was named a recipient on behalf of "the people of Egypt." Kennedy said she could think of no better recipients.
"Our honorees come from different parts of the world," she said at the ceremony. "But each embody my father's belief that one person of courage makes a majority." Redenbaugh, first elected to the New Hanover County school board in 2008, stood in opposition to a neighborhood-based redistricting plan that she feared would lead to racial segregation of the county's middle schools. The plan eventually passed but Redenbaugh was the only white Republican board member to oppose the plan.
"Her stance had real and painful consequences, pitting her against friends and neighbors. People threatening her at school board meetings, on the radio, and blamed her for destroying her community," said Kennedy. "But she stood her ground." Redenbaugh, an attorney, said Kennedy "rocked my world" when she told her that she had received the award.
"I am a very, very ordinary person who made the intentional decision to submit, to what I perceive to be, the will of an extraordinary God. This is the source of my political courage," said Redenbaugh, in the presence of two other school board members who came to the ceremony.
Redenbaugh said when she heard about the redistricting plan that would largely be based on the area's segregated neighborhoods, she couldn't shake off a Bible passage in Genesis that said all humans were worthy of dignity and respect.
"There is no dignity in segregation," she said.
Ghonim, a marketing executive for Google, anonymously launched a Facebook page that played a role in organizing the protests this year that led to the ouster of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Kennedy said it was Ghonim's "moral outrage" that prompted him to act and spark a movement. "He had no idea how many would heed the call," she said.
Ghonim was detained by Egyptian police but released after international pressure. He returned to Cairo's Tahrir Square, the heart of the protests, and gave the movement new momentum, Kennedy said.
"I'm very happy to be here at the JFK Library as one of millions of Egyptians who had courage to fight in order to have the chance to walk along freedom's road," said Ghonim, who read a speech from his iPad. "It's humbling for me, but also fills me with pride that the courage of my fellow Egyptians is recognized globally." The Kennedys created the honor to recognize the work of elected public servants. President John F. Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize for his book "Profiles in Courage" in 1957.
Past recipients include President Gerald Ford and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.