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The Impactful Life Stories Behind the “Power to Inspire” Tribute Award Winners

by Ralitsa Vassileva

The Center for Civil and Human Rights kicked off its first anniversary celebrations on May 6th by recognizing the work of human rights heroes during the inaugural "Power to Inspire" Tribute Dinner. The Center's new Interim CEO, Deborah Richardson, spearheaded the ceremony and fundraiser. The evening was a huge success, raising more than $650,000 for The Center’s future growth as a catalyst for tolerance, human rights and equality around the world.   

On a clear Wednesday evening under a festive tent on the lawn of Pemberton Place, The Center celebrated the work of Estela Barnes de Carlotto, Pete and Ada Lee Correll, Vernon Jordan and Kerry Kennedy – each of whom has dedicated his or her life’s work to human rights. Here’s a little background:

Jordan is The Center's Chairman Emeritus and a civil rights activist. He helped build The Center to share Atlanta’s civil rights legacy with the world. Atlanta philanthropists Pete and Ada Lee Correll lead efforts to improve healthcare access, support student youth development and art programs. And Kennedy, who became a passionate human rights champion after a 1981 investigation into migrant abuse, now leads the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. During the acceptance speeches, Kennedy (who flew all the way from India to attend) electrified the audience with memories of her father who used the power of his office to uphold civil rights in the South. A true daughter of Robert. F Kennedy, she continues his legacy standing up with passion for human rights in America and around the world. Carlotto, The Center’s international awardee, is an 84-year-old Argentinian mother of four. She’s a courageous activist who turned personal grief into a dangerous quest and ultimately triumphed when she risked her life to reunite missing children with their families after Argentina’s “Dirty War” in the 1970s and 1980s.

At the Power to Inspire Tribute Dinner, Carlotto deeply moved the audience with her humble nature and inspired people with memories of her selfless work on behalf of Argentina’s stolen children. Carlotto leads the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo organization, which has reunited 116 children with their families. She is the only “Power to Inspire” honoree who also has a Ross Rossin portrait hanging in The Center, placed among icons like Gandhi, Mandela and MLK. She is also the only living Human Rights Champion among this exclusive group of faces on the walls of the Human Rights Gallery at The Center. The portraits honor ordinary people who did extraordinary things when faced with injustice. 

In 1977, Carlotta was a middle-class mom rearing her children and looking forward to her golden years. Then Argentina’s brutal military intervened. Carlotto’s pregnant daughter, a leftist supporter, was detained and killed after delivering a baby boy. The child was given up for adoption, location unknown. In 2014, she found her grandson after a 36-year search.

On May 5, at The Center, she updated the copy on the wall panel next to her portrait, changing her grandson Guido’s status during a moving ceremony. She also gave The Center a white scarf – the same kind the Argentinian grandmothers wore during their protests – as a symbol of the missing babies' diapers.     

The honorees' lifelong work inspired the generosity of those who packed Pemberton Place on a beautiful Atlanta spring evening. The Power to Inspire Tribute Dinner will become an annual fundraising event. The first anniversary celebrations continue through early July and includes several programs and initiatives, including an Interfaith Program to discuss social issues with Atlanta’s religious leaders, the launch of the John Lewis Fellows program and more. Visit www.civilandhumanrights.org to learn more and engage with us. 

(Photo caption: Power to Inspire Tribute Dinner / May 6, 2015 Pete and Ada Correll, Estela Barnes de Carlotto, Vernon Jordan and Kerry Kennedy)

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