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National NOW Times >> Fall 2003 >> Article

NOW's First Awards Gala a Huge Success

by Lisa Bennett, Communications Director

"Resolutely courageous, fearless and bold" perfectly described the four women who were honored with NOW's first-ever Intrepid Awards at a dazzling Gala on July 10. Held at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., the awards ceremony raised spirits as well as funds for the just-launched Drive for Equality campaign.

From left: Dr. Mae Jemison, Helen Thomas with NOW Executive VP Karen Johnson, Margaret Cho
From left: Dr. Mae Jemison, Helen Thomas with NOW Executive VP Karen Johnson, Margaret Cho Photos by Judy G. Rolfe

Attending the inspirational candle-lit event were key leaders and activists within the feminist and progressive movements, as well as many high-profile supporters of women's rights from Congress. "The turnout was incredible," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "We were thrilled to see so many feminist friends and allies gathered together to acknowledge four fabulous women." NOW honored women who embody the definition of "Intrepid"—resolutely courageous, fearless and bold. Gandy offered her praise: "They embody the courage that gives the rest of us the stamina to keep fighting, and they keep us inspired by what they do with their lives."

The first honoree, Helen Thomas, is nationally known as "the dean of the White House press corps." Thomas is a trailblazer for women journalists and has covered every U.S. President since John F. Kennedy. She continues to ask the hard questions of our political leaders as a columnist with Hearst Newspapers.

In accepting the award, Thomas called out for equality: "Why do we still have to fight for rights that should have been ours from the birth of this nation? Well, I'm still outraged that we didn't get the vote until 1920. The suffragists are my heroines. They chained themselves to the White House fence, they marched 50 years, really, and went to jail to get the vote. Of course, we've come a long way, but equality at the work place, equal pay and so on are still to come."

Author and activist Rebecca Walker was honored for co-founding the Third Wave Direct Action Corporation, registering voters in inner cities across the country and encouraging countless young women—of all colors—to embrace feminism. She is the author of "Black White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self."

Walker thanked NOW for a $10,000 contribution that helped launched the Third Wave in 1992, and gave tribute to an entire movement. "The commitment of NOW is what makes me so proud to be here, to be honored by you and to feel a part of this incredible, transformative, powerful movement and community of women and men moving into the future together . . . It's great to be in this room tonight. I feel so grateful. I was raised in rooms like this. It's great to be back. I feel like I'm coming home."

Dr. Mae Jemison, the third award recipient, became the first African American woman in space in 1992. Jemison founded her own company to promote science and technology in daily life, as well as an international science camp for teens. She has also written an autobiography and taught at Dartmouth College and Cornell University.

Jemison reminisced about her childhood, offering these inspiring words: "I always look at the 60s with a lot of fondness. That's during the time that NOW and other organizations were starting. When I could look up and assume that I was going into space, on the South Side of Chicago, a little girl of six, seven, eight and I assumed that I was going into space, it was because of organizations like NOW, people who were making things happen right then."

The final honoree of the night was ground-breaking comedian Margaret Cho. Truly embracing the word fearless, Cho has pushed the boundaries of comedy for women performers and earned herself a dedicated following of fans across the country. Cho has survived starring in her own TV sitcom and has turned her comedy shows into successful movies.

In a speech that was both touching and hilarious, Cho spoke about the need for unity among oppressed groups: "They [a group of gay men] taught me an education that was more valuable than anything that I learned in school: that sexism, racism and homophobia were the exact same thing and could be the same word. And, if activist groups could let go of the walls that came between them, which ironically are built of the same bricks and mortar as the walls that they are trying to break down on their own, and could come together, can you imagine the size of that wrecking ball?"

Maureen Bunyan, popular news anchor for WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C., was the emcee for the evening. Bunyan has earned seven Emmy Awards for reporting on local, national and international issues. She has been an outspoken advocate for women and minorities in the newsroom, as a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists and the International Women's Media Foundation.

Attendees left the museum praising the Intrepid winners' moving speeches as well as NOW's success in launching an annual gala. We look forward to making the Intrepid Awards into a talked-about event every year—plan to join us next fall!

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