Honored at a ceremony held before a standing-room-only crowd at the College’s Gerald W. Lynch Theater were Dr. Hawa Abdi, the Somali human rights activist and 2012 Nobel Prize nominee; Harry Belafonte, the renowned musician, actor and civil rights activist, and Vivian Nixon, executive director of the College and Community Fellowship. A posthumous award was presented to the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. [Biographical sketches of the award winners appear below.]
Created in 2008, the Justice Award honors leaders who have made a significant impact on the international, national and community levels.
In his welcoming remarks, John Jay President Jeremy Travis “The Justice Awards are given to those who, like the ancient philosophers, understand that justice is a ligament that holds society together.”
The evening’s A-list presenters included the renowned actor James Earl Jones, Rosanna Rosado, CEO and publisher of El Diario/La Prensa, and Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast. Justice Douglas’s widow, Cathleen Douglas Stone, accepted the award on her late husband’s behalf. Dr. Abdi’s daughter, Dr. Deqo Waqaf, accepted the award for her mother.
In turn, the Justice Award winners noted that they were humbled by the honor, and by the company they were keeping for the evening. They also expressed broad admiration for the College, citing, in Ms. Stone’s words, “the wonderful work of the alumni of this institution and the students who will go out and change the world.” Mr. Belafonte noted that he has been a frequent visitor to John Jay in the past, for lectures, classroom presentations and other events, and said that each time “it’s been an experience beyond my ability to describe.”
The John Jay Justice Awards ceremony is made possible through the generosity of John Jay College Foundation Trustee Richard Tarlow.
To read news article on the Justice Award, click items below.
About the Honorees
Dr. Hawa Abdi, Human Rights Activist, Somalia
Dr. Hawa Abdi is a human rights activist and doctor. She studied medicine in Kiev in the former Soviet Union and became Somalia’s first female gynecologist. She then completed a law degree at the Somali National University, where she later also became an assistant professor of medicine. She opened a clinic on her family’s land and, when war broke out in 1991, she started housing, feeding and caring for her employees and their friends. Her land currently houses more than 90,000 displaced refugees, 90 percent of them women, children and the elderly.
Harry Belafonte, Civil Rights Activist, Actor, Musician
In addition to a long and successful career in music, Harry Belafonte has been a well-known humanitarian, advocate for human rights, and astute critic of U.S, foreign policy for more than six decades. Always outspoken, Belafonte found inspiration for his activism from such figures as Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Always willing to use his celebrity to fight for justice, Belafonte was present when King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, DC, in 1963. Through UNICEF, Belafonte has traveled the world working to ensure that children have education, healthy environments and opportunities to prosper. In addition to this role as a goodwill ambassador, Belafonte has campaigned to end the practice of apartheid in South Africa and has spoken out forcefully against U.S. military actions in Iraq.
Vivian Nixon, Executive Director, the College and Community Fellowship
The Rev. Vivian Nixon heads a uniquely innovative organization that enables formerly incarcerated women to access higher education and leadership development skills that lead to economic security. Since its founding in 2000, CCF has assisted 240 women with tuition assistance, tutoring, mentoring and financial counseling. Program participants have completed 35 associate’s degrees, 105 bachelor’s degrees, 50 master’s degrees and one doctorate. CCF participants have a recidivism rate of less than 2 percent. CCF is also part of a coalition advocating for a change in the policy that bans Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals, in order to reestablish the opportunity for people to earn college degrees while in prison.
Justice William O. Douglas
Strongly libertarian in his opinions, distrustful of establishments of all types, and an absolutist on the Bill of Rights, Justice William O. Douglas considered himself a voice for the voiceless and powerless. Douglas was one of the youngest appointees ever to the U.S. Supreme Court when he was named to the bench by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, at age 40. He served with distinction for 36 years, during which time he was responsible for writing opinions in many complicated financial cases. He won great renown for his pronouncements on civil liberties, his rejection of government limitations on freedom of speech and the press, and his outspoken support of the rights of the accused. He wrote numerous books on history, politics, foreign relations and conservation.