Be there: watch the entire 40 min Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony above.
- Jill

In the past, the recipients of the President’s Medal of Freedom award have registered on my radar from “Good Choice” to “W-T-F?” (the “W-T-F” moments were during the Bush Crime Family Administration, and many of you know why.)

http://blogs.bet.com/news/pamela/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/presmedalfreedom.jpgAttending the ceremony for JJP was a real honor and privilege; one I don’t take lightly.  The magnitude and significance of the event was not lost on me, or the other Bloggers of Color who attended the ceremony.  Although the East Room was crowded, and most of the media were standing and jockeying for position, the merit of those receiving this award was never in question.  Even GeeShrubya’s daddy had some meritorious achievements to his credit – everything that the son COULDN’T DO.

I mean, Poppy Bush was a fighter pilot in WWII; and did some humanitarian efforts with Bill Clinton in organizing relief in disaster areas, but somehow, I couldn’t get past the fact he was Head Spook during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations.  That does not mean his humanitarian efforts, and his somewhat decent run as POTUS (ending the Cold War without a shot being fired) made him less deserving of his award.

And who can deny Dr. Maya Angelou was worthy of her award?  Most of us remember her telling us “Why the Caged Bird Sings” and showing everyone how “Phenominal” we Black Women really are, while telling all of us through her art, her writings and her poetry, that African-Americans have always had their fingers “On The Pulse of the Morning.”

Most humbling award recipient was Dr. Tom Little – his award was a posthumous because in the course of carrying out his humanitarian efforts to provide good eyesight and care to the Afghan people, he and nine of his party were murdered in Afghanistan.  His widow accepted on his behalf.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was a no-show, but she will get her award in an official visit with the POTUS later in the year.  Some of the German media were none too happy about that, plus being made to wait with the rest of the media.  Oh, well.

If you’re into classical music, then you’ll understand why internationally renown cellist Yo-Yo Ma was there.  I’ve attended his concerts and let me tell you, he’s worth the price of a good ticket.  But far more important is his humanitarian efforts through the arts and connecting on a global level.

I have always admired Bill Russell and not for his skillz on the basketball court, either.  Russell is a graduate of my high school alma mater, McClymonds High School,in Oakland, California, and I fondly remember his days on the court as a Boston Celtic BEFORE Larry Bird showed up – both as a player and a coach.  But what I really admire about Bill Russell is that when it was easier to take money to shut up about equality and Civil Rights, he and his road dog, Jim Brown, refused.  Their obligations to ensure full and equal rights in society overall were more important than getting paid.  I remember seeing the pair on “Real Sports” with Bryant Gumbel, and both said that the African-American professional athletes of the 21st Century were pissing them off because they put profit above doing what was right and giving back to the communities that enabled them to play their sport professionally, while refusing to speak out on civil rights issues because they put profit and endorsements first (cough, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, et al, cough).

Congressman John Lewis – need I say more about why he got the Medal of Freedom Award?  I should hope not, unless you have been living under a rock for the past fifty years.  I loved how he shyly told us in a press conference that he was going to sport his medal around the Hill for a while.  To me, no medal makes up for that beating he took on the Selma Bridge during those Civil Rights Freedom marches and his activism in SNCC and other civil rights organizations during the turbulent 1960s.

I thought it ironic to honor Union Labor leader John Sweeney (AFL-CIO) while Congress is full of members that would like nothing more than to bust up the remaining unions that haven’t been dismantled yet.  All this hoo-hah about the Gipper, but what I remember most, both as a union member and union steward, was how Ronald Reagan busted as many unions as he could during his administration, and those he didn’t get to, Bill Clinton took on the job.

Two women from divergent life paths, were honored and I’d like to say something about them both.  Sylvia Mendez is a Latina Civil Rights activist whose family filed a lawsuit out in California to desegregate public schools out in California (Mendez v. Westminister) and was used as the pre-cursor to the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.  This, of course was during the time one could actually look to the highest court in the land and be assured of a fair shake, win, lose or DRAW.

Gerda Weissman Klein is a Concentration Camp survivor and Jewish Holocaust survivior who wrote several books about her experiences, so any fool trying to sell the lie that the Holocaust didn’t exist, please have a chat with this woman, if you’re BRAVE ENOUGH to hear the TRUTH.  The romantic aspect of her life is that she married the guy(an American, Paul Klein) who rescued her from the concentration camp, and together, they made a life of speaking out against the atrocities of war, and the reality of the Holocaust.

Jean Kennedy Smith served as Ambassador to Ireland, and also created programs for the disabled in the arts.  Always, when I think of a Kennedy, I think “Kennedy = PUBLIC SERVANT”.  I also had to remind myself she wasn’t responsible for her son, who is now a respected physician, but it was still a shock to see William Kennedy Smith in the audience when that highly publicized rape trial gave us the advent of Court TV.

Hall of Famer Stan “The Man” Musial got an award, if for nothing else, being a decent and moral professional athlete who offered to take a pay cut for poor performance over the course of his 22-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Imagine Derek Jeter offering to take a cut out of that $51 million dollar contract renewal he got if his play declines this season or any other season.  And who could forget Warren Buffett who is actually a millionaire that believes in putting his money where his mouth is, as far as helping the poor and downtrodden are concerned?

Most of the audience were full of noted individuals – most of the Democratic side of the House were there to support Congressman Lewis getting the award, and giving him a long standing ovation, as was given to Poppy Bush.  But as I’ve said, YOU HAD TO BE THERE.

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