Stars of activism, politics and entertainment honored with Freedom Awards

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It was an exciting night in Memphis for champions of racial and gender equality as the National Civil Rights Museum honored this year’s recipients of the Freedom Award.

Some big names in politics, activism and entertainment attended the ceremony Wednesday at the Orpheum Theatre. That made it easy to get star-struck, but underneath all the pomp and circumstance was a real message about the state of civil rights in the country.

This year’s Freedom Award honorees included star recording artist John Legend. The music icon was recognized for his efforts to reform the criminal justice system and improve the quality of education for impoverished children.

Legend said he’s proud to talk about these achievements in a city forever linked with the Civil Rights Movement.

“It’s so important that we remember our legacy and remember the people who paved the way for us to be where we are, and Memphis is so critical for us in understanding that legacy, and so we’re glad that so much of that history is preserved here,” he said.

Also honored with a Freedom Award was Hafsat Abiola, a Nigerian human rights activist who helps young African women rise to positions of power in business and politics.

“I feel honored to be in the place where Dr. Martin Luther King lived his last moments and be in the center of the struggle that made it possible for me as a black, African American woman to come to the United States and be educated in the United States and never worry about where I was on a bus,” Abiola said.

The evening’s third award recipient was Gloria Steinem, a renowned feminist who said the fights for racial and gender equality will always be connected. They really are so intertwined they can’t be separated.

“Until we have a country that doesn’t label people by gender or by race, we’re not going to have a democracy,” Steinem said.

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