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Romney, Whitmer, Among Those Tapped for Special Profile in Courage Awards

May 4, 2021 by TWN Staff
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (Photo by Dan McCue)

BOSTON – Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will be among the honorees on May 26 when the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation bestows its next slate of Profile in Courage awards.

Romney is being honored for his historic vote in the first impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.

According to the Foundation, at a time of grave threat to U.S. democratic institutions, the Utah senator has proven to be “a consistent but often solitary” Republican voice in defense of democracy and the rule of law.

It went on to say that despite facing unrelenting criticism and public antagonism following his vote, along with threats to his physical safety and demands he be censured or expelled from the Republican party, Romney “has continued to courageously defend the fundamental principles of democratic governance.”

The Foundation noted that after the Jan 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, Romney was one of only six Republican senators who voted to convict Trump on inciting the insurrection.

“Senator Romney ‘s commitment to our Constitution makes him a worthy successor to the senators who inspired my father to write Profiles in Courage. He reminds us that our Democracy depends on the courage, conscience and character of our elected officials,” said former Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, honorary president of the Foundation.

Gov. Whitmer, meanwhile, is one of seven individuals being honored for risking their own health and safety to protect others during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When Michigan’s first cases of COVID-19 were identified in early March 2020, Gov. 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,” the Foundation said.

“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,” it continued. “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,” the Foundation concluded.

The other honorees are:

Dr. Amy Acton, Former Director, State Health Department, Ohio  

Before COVID-19 had claimed the lives of more than a handful of Americans, Dr. 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, Mass., 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 in Charleston, S.C., 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. 

Leander’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 29 birthday. 

The award, named for President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, is presented annually to public servants who have made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences. 

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