Thursday, July 30, 2009

Obama awards 16 with America's highest civilian honor

President Barack Obama is awarding the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to 16 people, the White House announced Thursday.

The medals will be presented at a White House ceremony on Aug. 12.

Obama called the recipients "agents of change."

"Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way," Obama said. "Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive."

The Associated Press reports the 16 recipients as:

_Nancy Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a leading breast cancer grass-roots organization. Brinker created the organization after her sister died of breast cancer in 1980 and raises money for research and other services through events like the Race for the Cure.

_Pedro Jose Greer Jr., a doctor and assistant dean of academic affairs at Florida International University School of Medicine. He is the founder of Camillus Health Concern, which provides medical care to more than 10,000 homeless patients annually in Miami. He also is founder and medical director of the St. John Bosco Clinic, which provides medical care to poor children and adults in the city's Cuban community. His work has been recognized by several former presidents.

_Stephen Hawking, an internationally recognized physicist and mathematics professor at Cambridge University in London. The 67-year-old scientist is well known for his work on black holes. Hawking has been almost completely paralyzed for years and communicates through an electronic voice synthesizer. At age 21, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, an incurable degenerative disorder.

_Former Republican Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, who died in May. Kemp also was secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President George H.W. Bush and the GOP nominee for vice president in 1996. He was a quarterback for the Buffalo Bills before entering public service.

_Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., a member of the Senate for 46 years who endorsed Obama for president. Kennedy has been behind legislative efforts to improve the public schools, strengthen civil rights laws, support working people and provide health care for all. He was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer last year and has largely been absent as Congress debates Obama's plan to overhaul health care.

_Billie Jean King, the 1960s and 1970s tennis legend who became one of America's first openly gay major sports figures when she revealed her sexual orientation in 1981.

_Rev. Joseph Lowery, a leader in the civil rights movements since the early 1950s. Lowery helped organize the Montgomery bus boycott. He later co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading civil rights group, with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Lowery also led "Bloody Sunday" march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama in 1965.

_Joe Medicine Crow, the last living Plains Indian war chief who fought in World War II, wearing war paint beneath his uniform. He became an acclaimed Native American historian who lectured extensively on the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

_Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay elected official from a major U.S. city when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk encouraged lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people to live their lives openly. Milk, along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, was shot and killed in 1978 by Dan White, a former city supervisor.

_Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female U.S. Supreme Court justice. Nominated in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan, she retired in 2006.

_Sidney Poitier, the top black movie star in the 1950s and 1960s. He is the first African American to win an Academy Award for best actor, to receive an award at a top international film festival (the Venice Film Festival) and be the top grossing movie star in the U.S. Poitier began his acting career without any training or experience by auditioning at the American Negro Theatre.

_Chita Rivera, an accomplished actor, singer and dancer and winner of two Tony Awards. In 2002, Rivera became the first Hispanic recognized with a Kennedy Center Honor. She was propelled to stardom by her performance as Anita in the original Broadway premiere of "West Side Story."

_Mary Robinson, Ireland's first female president, serving from 1990-1997. She also is a former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

_Janet Davison Rowley, a doctor and distinguished professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. Rowley was the first scientist to identify chromosomal translocation as the cause of leukemia and other cancers. She was awarded the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest scientific honor, in 1999.

_Desmond Tutu, the retired Anglican Archbishop emeritus and formerly a leading anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, widely regarded as the country's moral conscience. As general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, he led an effort in support of justice and racial reconciliation in his country, work that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. Tutu also chaired the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995.

_Muhammad Yunus, a leader in global anti-poverty efforts who has pioneered the use of "micro loans" to provide credit to poor people who don't have collateral. He founded the Grameen Bank in 1983 in his native Bangladesh to provide these low-interest loans. Yunus was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work.

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