WASHINGTON (October 14, 2010) – The Asian American Justice Center feted heroes and preservers of Asian American culture Oct. 7 at its 14th annual American Courage Awards at the Mayflower Hotel. Lt. Dan Choi, who gave a rousing speech with the refrain of “I am somebody,” while accepting the American Courage Award, was the night’s keynote speaker.
AAJC selected Lt. Choi because he embodies the ideals the ACAs are meant to celebrate. Lt. Dan Choi is not just courageous, he is a hero. An Iraq War veteran and West Point graduate, Lt. Choi was simply trying to serve his country when the Army discharged him under its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy after he announced that he was gay on “The Rachel Maddow Show” in 2009. He was released from his service even though he was one of only eight soldiers from his graduating class who majored in Arabic.
Lt. Choi is committed to applying the leadership lessons he learned in the military. He helped form Knights Out, an organization of West Point alumni advocating for the rights of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.
He was joined by Dr. Franklin Odo, who received the Distinguished Service Award. Dr. Odo has dedicated his career to furthering understanding of and appreciation for Asian Pacific American culture. He capped an illustrious career of serving his community when he retired from the Smithsonian Institution earlier this year. He spent 12 years as the founding director of the Institution’s Asian Pacific American program.
He was responsible for helping the Smithsonian’s 19 museums and research centers with the collection and research of Asian Pacific American artifacts as well as with programs and outreach to the APA community. The program also makes the Smithsonian more accessible to our communities. Before taking that position, Dr. Odo was the first and only Asian Pacific American curator at the National Museum of American History.
Actor Maulik Pancholy, better known as Jonathon on the NBC comedy “30 Rock,” was the night’s emcee. Pancholy personalized the moment, recalling how growing up in Tampa, Fla. he was amazed to see a Smithsonian-sponsored traveling exhibit about Indian culture. He said he now realizes he has Dr. Odo to thank.
“The work you have done at the Smithsonian for the past 12 years has literally helped us re-write history,” Pancholy told Odo. “Our communities are more successful in corporate board rooms, more valued in hospital operating rooms, more visible in theater green rooms and justly treated in the nation’s courtrooms when our stories are told in America’s classrooms.”
State Farm Insurance Companies was honored with the Bridge Builder Award.
Since 1999, State Farm has helped build AAJC’s Community Partners Network into a truly national, community-based network. AAJC now has 118 partners spanning 59 cities across 30 states. The network is vital to AAJC’s ability to carry out work that resonates on both the local and national level.
With State Farm’s help, AAJC was able to transform its widely popular Community Partners’ Conference into the first Advancing Justice Conference last year. AAJC co-hosted the second annual Advancing Justice Conference in Alexandria, Va. in June with the other members of Asian American Center for Advancing Justice—the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles, the Asian American Law Caucus in San Francisco and the Asian American Institute in Chicago.
Karen K. Narasaki, AAJC’s president and executive director, closed the night with inspiration and an invitation.
“Poet Seamus Heany wrote: ‘History says, ‘don’t hope on this side of the grave,’ but then, once in a lifetime the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme,’ Narasaki quoted. “Tonight has been about the work all of you in this room do to make hope and history rhyme.”
Narasaki then reminded the crowd that next year is AAJC’s 20th anniversary and invited everyone to the 15th annual American Courage Awards, which be in Washington, D.C. in October 2011. Details will follow.
The Asian American Justice Center (www.advancingequality.org), a member of Asian American Center for Advancing Justice (www.advancingjustice.org), works closely with its sister organizations – the Asian American Institute in Chicago (www.aaichicago.org), the Asian Law Caucus (www.asianlawcaucus.org) in San Francisco and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (www.apalc.org) in Los Angeles – to promote a fair and equitable society for all by working for civil and human rights and empowering Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other underserved communities.