The 2011 Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prizes were awarded in a ceremony on Oct. 25, 2011.
The award ceremony was part of a larger symposium during which the 2011 winners shared their experiences and perspectives in shaping innovative programs that effect positive social change.
>> RAYNARD KINGTON: Good evening. As president of Grinnell College, I am pleased to welcome you to the first presentation of the Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize.
We stand here in the presence of some of the world's most remarkable young minds in innovative social change. We're pleased to recognize them and celebrate them and it's fitting that we do so. Their passion for making the world a better place is clearly aligned with Grinnell’s history, mission, and core beliefs--all of which are rooted in serving the common good. It's fitting that we recognize those who are creating a better world by innovating and effecting social change, and that we encourage other young innovators to do the same, this year, next year, and the year after that.
This year's winners were chosen for their leadership, their creativity, their commitment, and their extraordinary accomplishment. They truly embody the College’s mission to serve the common good, and they are inspiring examples--seeing a huge social need, then working creatively to meet that need.
>> LAURA FERGUSON: Thirty-seven-year-old James Kofi Annan has lived through events most of us can't imagine. When he was six years old, his financially desperate parents sold him to child traffickers. For seven years he worked long hours in the fishing industry of Ghana’s Lake Volta, moving from one fishing village to another, never being paid, never learning to read or write until he escaped at age 13. James ultimately earned his degree in psychology from the University of Ghana, a master’s in communication and media studies from the University of Education in Ghana, and a job as manager at Barclays Bank of Ghana. In 2003, James invested more than half of his income to found Challenging Heights and open an evening school which helps motivate children to get an education and prevent their being enslaved. We are privileged to present tonight’s first Grinnell Prize to James Kofi Annan.
>>JAMES KOFI ANNAN: . . . after several years of perseverance, and I believe that this another opportunity to tell the world that child slavery will end one day. With this award, and with the resources that come with it, and with the impact on civility in communities and in the world, I believe that this opens another door for child slavery to end again.
>> LAURA FERGUSON: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has raged since before the state of Israel was created in 1948. Effort after effort to diffuse tensions and violence have had little success. Enter 36-year-old Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, whose lifelong desire to promote human dignity and justice for marginalized populations led to the creation of Encounter, an organization that’s succeeding where others have failed, an organization dedicated to giving American-Jewish leaders personal, face-to-face exposure to Palestinian life.
Today, Encounter represents the most significant non-military Jewish presence in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank. To quote Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby J Street, “When the book about the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is written, Encounter will have a chapter.”
For her relentless and effective efforts to promote peace, we're pleased to present the Grinnell Prize to Rabbi Melissa Weintraub.
>> MELISSA WEINTRAUB: Imagine this: Orthodox and Reform rabbis, lead supporters of arch nemesis Israel lobbies AIPAC and J Street, national religious settlers and anti-occupation activists--all sitting down together in front of a separation barrier with a Palestinian family directly impacted by it and grappling together with what it means, with mutual listening and respect.
This prize honors all peace builders and activists who are affirming all that’s best and deepest in us in helping shape our collective destiny in the direction of our greatest hopes, rather than our greatest fears.
>> LAURA FERGUSON: When Robert K. Greenleaf coined the phrase “servant leadership” in 1970, he defined a servant-leader as someone who is servant first, making sure that the other people's highest priority needs are being met. What an apt description for Eric Glustrom and Boris Bulayev, tonight's final recipients of the Grinnell Prize.
Eric’s and Boris’ relentless desire to unlock the potential of African youth in order to solve problems of poverty, disease, and environmental degradation has had a tremendous impact--so much so that recently the Ugandan Ministry of Education adopted the Educate! enterprise curriculum into secondary schools throughout the nation.
It's our privilege to introduce you to EDUCATE!’s president Eric Glustrom of Boulder, Colorado, and Educate!’s executive director Boris Bulayev of New York.
>> ERIC GLUSTROM: Oftentimes when we draw our organizational chart, we draw it upside down as to what you might consider the standard organizational chart. And it’s because our mentors, who are the ones who actually go into the schools and work with our students, one-on-one, to help them start the projects and the businesses that lift themselves, their families and communities out of poverty and solve the social and environmental challenges facing their communities.
It’s those mentors who are really doing the real work of the organization and we're just really here to support them. I say with complete honesty that our team is really the ones that inspired me to continue to do this type of work because I see how much they believe in what we’re doing and how much they believe in the potential of the next generation.
>> GEORGE DRAKE: Tonight we have met James Kofi Annan, Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, Eric Glustrom, and Boris Bulayev--incredible examples of young innovators who truly work for the common good. As chair of the selection committee, I want to express how enlightening, inspiring, and rewarding the process was from beginning to end. I genuinely look forward to doing it again in 2012 as we search for the second group of Grinnell Prize winners. And then it’s my pleasure to say goodnight.