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Gov. Whitmer honored with John F. Kennedy Library Foundation Profile in Courage Award

The governor is recognized for her service during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Michigan).
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Michigan).(WLUC/State of Michigan)
Published: May. 4, 2021 at 11:54 AM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (Press Release/WLUC) - The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation Tuesday announced that Governor Whitmer is one of seven recipients for the special Profile in Courage Award. Governor Whitmer is recognized for her service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and her son, Jack Schlossberg, will present the awards for COVID Courage as part of a virtual ceremony that will air for the public on May 26, 2021 at 6:00 p.m. eastern.

“It is my honor to accept this prestigious award on behalf of every Michigander who stepped up to help their family and community through the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “I am humbled by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and the Kennedy Family for their recognition. We must all strive to live up to the call of public service put forward by President Kennedy decades ago and exemplified by the heroes on the frontlines of this pandemic who are putting shots in arms and working tirelessly in schools, stores, and hospitals statewide.”

“Today’s honorees put their own lives at risk to keep others safe. They inspire us all with their courage and give new meaning to President Kennedy’s legacy of public service,” said Caroline Kennedy, honorary president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

“These heroes went above and beyond for their community and our country, and remind us that we all can make a difference if we answer the call to serve,” said Schlossberg, a member of the Profile in Courage Award Committee.

When Michigan’s first cases of COVID-19 were identified in early March 2020, Governor Gretchen Whitmer invoked emergency powers in a bid to contain the spread of the virus and save lives, issuing early, controversial orders to close schools and businesses, mandate mask wearing, and ban large gatherings, among other measures.

While her leadership earned praise from many, she also faced sustained, vocal backlash over stay-at-home rules that remained in place as COVID-19 cases in Michigan continued to rise during the spring. Protests over Whitmer’s pandemic response became increasingly threatening, with armed demonstrators surrounding and at one point storming the state capitol to demand an end to stay-at-home orders.

In October, thirteen men were charged with a June 2020 plot to kidnap and kill Whitmer. The men were said to be motivated at least in part by anger and resentment over pandemic restrictions.

Despite violent threats against her life, Whitmer did not back down. She stayed focused on following the science and listening to public health experts to get the pandemic under control and start rebuilding Michigan’s economy.

Thousands of people from across the country submitted COVID Courage nominations, sharing moving stories about the commitment and sacrifice of members of their communities who put their own health and safety at risk to help heal the sick, protect our most vulnerable, and provide critical support services.

The seven honorees will represent the courage and national sacrifice we have witnessed in so many aspects of American life.

Governor Whitmer will receive this honor alongside the following six individuals:

  • Dr. Amy Acton, Former Director, State Health Department, Ohio
    • Before COVID-19 had claimed the lives of more than a handful of Americans, Dr. Amy Acton, the first woman physician appointed to Ohio’s top public health position, boldly proposed an aggressive shelter-in-place order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
    • Her leadership put Ohio ahead of most other states in responding to the virus, but she became the target of protestors and legislators, who sought to limit her power and even engaged in personal attacks against her.
  • Burnell Cotlon, Owner, Burnell’s Market, Louisiana
    • In 2014, Burnell Cotlon spent his life savings to open the only fresh grocery store in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
    • When the pandemic put many in his community out of work, Cotlon began allowing customers to take groceries on credit. Within a month, he’d opened tabs for more than 60 customers who could no longer afford to buy food.
    • Cotlon, an Army veteran who lived in a FEMA trailer for three years after Hurricane Katrina, missed mortgage payments on his own house as his store quickly lost revenue, but he continued to offer lines of credit and even gave away food to customers.
  • Fred Freeman, Fire Department Captain, Massachusetts
    • Fred Freeman, who serves as a captain in the Hanover, Massachusetts fire department and is a registered nurse, led the establishment of an innovative mobile health program allowing the town of Hanover to deliver COVID-19 testing and other critical health services directly to residents in their homes.
    • The program – a partnership of the Hanover Fire Department and South Shore Health System – allows vulnerable patients to remain at home, slowing the spread of the virus and alleviating pressure on a health care system already strained by the pandemic.
  • Antonio Greene, Amazon Associate and former Delivery Associate, South Carolina
    • Delivery drivers have been lifelines to many during the COVID-19 crisis. Like many others, Amazon Associate Antonio Greene risks his own health every day to make sure community members receive the things they need to survive and thrive during the pandemic.
    • Last summer while working as a Delivery Associate for an Amazon Delivery Service Partner (DSP) in Charleston, SC, Greene noticed a sign on the door of a customer’s home which alerted visitors that the occupant was undergoing chemotherapy and was immunocompromised.
    • Shortly after leaving the package at the customer’s doorstep, Greene returned with flowers and a message of support addressed to the man. A week later, Greene stopped by again just to check in, forging an unexpected bond between the two men.
  • Lauren Leander, Intensive Care Nurse, Arizona
    • On April 20, 2020, Lauren Leander, an ICU nurse who cares for critically ill COVID-19 patients, stood with three of her colleagues in support of stay-at-home orders that were critical to slowing the spread of the virus during the early days of the pandemic. L
    • eander’s courageous, silent counterprotest at a rally of hundreds of angry protestors demanding that the state of Arizona immediately reopen was captured in a now-iconic photo in which an unmasked protester stood before her at close range. Leander stood in silence as rally attendees intentionally coughed on her and her fellow nurses and accused them of being paid actors.
    • Leander has utilized her new platform to create a GoFundMe Page to help raise over $286,000 dollars that has been used for PPE, medical supplies, and compassion fatigue gifts for Navajo and Hopi frontline nurses.
  • Darrell R. Marks, Native American Academic Advisor, Arizona
    • Darrell Marks, an indigenous Dine’/Navajo and the Native American Academic Advisor for Flagstaff High School, advocates for the rights and works to meet the unmet needs of the Navajo and Hopi tribal communities.
    • Marks, a single parent raising two teenage sons, has coordinated deliveries of food and supplies to Navajo and Hopi families struggling during the pandemic; advocated for voting rights in the face of efforts to disenfranchise Native Americans; worked to provide access to remote learning opportunities in tribal areas made even more isolated by COVID-19; and served as a personal counselor and resource to students struggling with loss and depression.

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation created the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 1989 to honor President Kennedy’s commitment and contribution to public service, and to celebrate his May 29th birthday. The 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 recipients of this prestigious award for political courage are selected by a distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders. Martha Minow, 300th Anniversary University Professor, Harvard University, former dean, Harvard Law School and chairs the 15-member committee.

Committee members are:

  • Stacey Abrams, Former Georgia State Representative
  • David Axelrod, Political Strategist and Founder the Institute of Politics at The University of Chicago
  • Joaquin Castro, U.S. Congressman, (D-Texas 20th District)
  • Carlos Curbelo, former US Congressman (R-FL 26th District)
  • Christopher Dodd, former Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, former U.S. Senator (D-Connecticut);
  • Adam Frankel, senior advisor to Emerson Collective and Fenway Strategies, former speechwriter to President Barack Obama
  • Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund
  • Caroline Kennedy, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan and Honorary President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation
  • Marne Levine, VP of Global Partnerships and Business Development at Facebook
  • Claire McCaskill, former US Senator (D-MO)
  • NBC Political Analyst; William H. McRaven, Admiral, USN (Retired)
  • Beth Myers, Principal, Buckminster Strategies
  • Ronald L. Sargent, Chairman, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation
  • Jack Schlossberg, Grandson of President Kennedy

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization founded in 1984 to provide financial support, staffing, and creative resources for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. 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.

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