Harry Belafonte, Dr. Hawa Abdi, Vivian Nixon and the late Justice William O. Douglas to Receive 2012 John Jay Medal for Justice

September 11, 2012 | John Jay College of Criminal Justice

James Earl Jones, Tina Brown, Rossana Rosado Will Serve as Presenters

In recognition of their fierce advocacy for justice, Dr. Hawa Abdi, Somali human rights activist and 2012 Nobel Prize nominee; Harry Belafonte, actor, musician and civil rights activist; and Vivian Nixon, executive director of the College and Community Fellowship will receive the John Jay Medal for Justice. The late Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas will be honored posthumously. Created in 2008, the award honors leaders who have an impact on the national, international and community levels.

James Earl Jones, renowned actor, Rossana Rosado, publisher of El Diario/La Prensa and Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast and Newsweek, will serve as presenters. Justice Douglas’s widow, Cathleen Douglas Stone, will accept the award on his behalf.

Previous John Jay Medal winners honored for their dedication to the cause of justice are the Honorable Judith Kaye, (retired) Chief Judge of the State of New York; Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland; BJ Bernstein, prominent Atlanta attorney; the NYU Brennan Center for Justice; Leymah Gbowee, Liberian activist who later won a Nobel Peace Prize; the Innocence Project; Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project; Sunitha Krishnan, founder and president of Prajwala; Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of Children’s Defense Fund; and Thomas J. Dart, Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois.

This year’s honorees will accept their award during a special ceremony at the College’s Gerald W. Lynch Theater on October 16.

About the award recipients:

INTERNATIONAL LEADER AWARD

Dr. Hawa Abdi
Human Rights Activist, Somalia

A nominee for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Hawa Abdi is the founder of the The Doctor Hawa Abdi Foundation. Through the Hawa Abdi Foundation, Dr. Abdi and her two daughters, who are also physicians, provide medical care and refuge to all regardless of clan, religious or political affiliation. Her work began in 1983, when she opened a one-room women’s clinic on her family’s farm, frequently using her own resources to provide care free of charge. Since then, her operation has grown to include a 400-bed hospital and an 800-student school and adult education facility which offers literacy and health classes for women. The community of approximately 90,000, mostly women and children, is one of the largest camps for internally displaced people in Somalia.

With the help of a scholarship, Dr. Abdi became Somalia’s first female gynecologist. Later, she completed a law degree at the Somali National University in Mogadishu. When civil war broke out in 1991, she started housing her employees on her land, feeding them and caring for them, their families and friends. Dr. Abdi has demonstrated the strength of nonviolent resistance through decades of upheaval, facing down armed forces despite imprisonment and death threats.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has called Dr Abdi “a perfect example of the kind of woman who inspires me.”

NATIONAL LEADER AWARD

Harry Belafonte
Civil Rights Activist, Actor, Musician

A multi-talented, internationally recognized performer, Harry Belafonte has been a champion for many social and political causes. Always outspoken, Belafonte found inspiration for his activism from such figures as singer, Paul Robeson, writer and activist, W.E.B. Du Bois, and civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the 1950s and 60s Belafonte emerged as a strong voice for the civil rights movement. He provided financial backing for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and participated in numerous rallies and protests. Belafonte was with Dr. King when the civil rights leader gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., and visited with him days before King was assassinated in 1968. In the 1980s, Belafonte led an effort to help people in Africa. He developed the idea of recording a song with other celebrities, which would be sold to raise funds to provide famine relief in Ethiopia. Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie, “We Are the World” featured vocals by such music greats as Ray Charles, Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen and Smokey Robinson. The song was released in 1985, raising millions of dollars and becoming an international hit.

Over the years, Belafonte has supported many causes. In addition to his role as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, the performer has campaigned to end the practice of apartheid in South Africa, and he has spoken out against U.S. military actions in Iraq.

COMMUNITY LEADER AWARD

Vivian Nixon
Executive Director, the College and Community Fellowship (CCF)

A leading proponent of access to higher education among incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, the Reverend Vivian Nixon is the Executive Director of the Community and College Fellowship (CCF). The CCF is an innovative organization that enables formerly incarcerated women to access higher education and leadership development skills that lead to economic security.

Nixon is herself a graduate of CCF, having joined the program in 2001 following a period of incarceration during which, as a tutor for other incarcerated women, she witnessed firsthand how lack of access to education impeded people’s ability to escape the cycle of poverty and recidivism. Under her direction, nearly 400 formerly incarcerated women have received services to support their quests for higher education and personal development. Program participants have completed more than 200 college degrees ranging from associate’s degrees to doctorates. Less than 2% of the program participants have had subsequent criminal justice involvement. Reverend Nixon’s leadership on educational issues includes co-founding the Education from the Inside/Out Coalition (EIO) a group chaired by CCF and the Fortune Society’s David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy to restore eligibility for Pell Grants among people in prison.

POSTHUMOUS AWARD

Justice William O. Douglas

In 1939, at the age of 40, William Orville Douglas became the second youngest United States Supreme Court justice in U.S. history. Known for his defense of civil liberties, Douglas rejected government limitations on free speech, and he was an outspoken defender of an unfettered press. Before President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him to the Supreme Court, Douglas served on the Securities and Exchange Commission. Brilliant, eccentric and independent, Douglas supported unpopular political causes. His opinions were characterized by a fierce commitment to individual rights and a powerful distrust of government power. He was admired for the forceful and blunt manner by which he reached the core issue in each case.

With a term lasting 36 years and 209 days, he is the longest-serving justice in the history of the Supreme Court.

The Justice Award Ceremony is made possible by the gracious support of Richard J. Tarlow, a member of the John Jay College Foundation Board.

About John Jay College of Criminal Justice: An international leader in educating for justice, John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York offers a rich liberal arts and professional studies curriculum to upwards of 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 135 nations. In teaching, scholarship and research, the College approaches justice as an applied art and science in service to society and as an ongoing conversation about fundamental human desires for fairness, equality and the rule of law. For more information, visit www.jjay.cuny.edu.

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For more information, call:
Doreen Viñas-Pineda 212-237-8645