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The original item was published from 10/25/2018 8:25:00 AM to 11/6/2018 7:50:58 PM.

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Posted on: October 17, 2018

[ARCHIVED] Local leaders and global activists honored at Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Awards

Tarana Burke

HYDE PARK - Dozens of local leaders and dignitaries gathered (October 14th) to honor several women, and one man, who have contributed to Eleanor Roosevelt’s mission to make the world a just and peaceful place for women. The annual Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal ceremony also marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that was considered one of the hallmarks of the first lady’s commitment to social justice. (Courtesy of the Daily Freeman)

Full Coverage from The Poughkeepsie Journal:

When she coined the phrase “me too” more than a decade ago, Tarana Burke said she had no idea it would turn into a rallying cry for millions of people around the world.

The Harlem-based community organizer and activist was credited with launching the movement that caught on in October 2017 in part because of celebrities using the #MeToo hashtag on social media. Burke, the founder of the organization Just Be Inc., first used those words as part of a campaign to empower survivors of sexual violence by telling them they’re not alone.

But she told the Journal many people have “weaponized” the campaign today, focusing on celebrities being brought down instead of “the millions of people who made Me Too a household name" on social media.

Burke was honored on Sunday afternoon as one of six 2018 Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Award recipients. Before giving her speech, she said there’s still more work to do but she feels humbled her words have resonated.

“Even 10 or 15 years ago people were really — even 10 or 15 months ago —  people were really wary of talking about (sexual violence),” she told the Journal. “We hoped that it would be something that survivors could recognize as a tool for each other. But I never expected it to do what it’s done now.”

She and the five other recipients rose to receive a medal and speak before a crowd of more than 100 at the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site. The group of honorees spoke of the legacy of the former first lady, and of the work they hope to do.

The recipients included New York leaders including Dutchess Community College President Dr. Pamela R. Edington, the school’s first female president; Roberta Kaplan, an attorney who helped launch the Times Up Legal Defense Fund; and former New York State Supreme Court Justice Albert M. Rosenblatt.

Goodwill ambassador Jaha Dukureh also received a medal. A survivor of female genital mutilation and forced child marriage in The Gambia, she launched a campaign to ban both practices in the country.

Marist College junior Ornella Mihigo, who was seated in the crowd, said she was inspired to be in the presence of people who “have done so much for their specific causes.

“Some of them have gone through very difficult moments in their lives, and they were able out people who were in those situations as well,” said the 20-year-old from Rwanda. “It’s very inspiring to see women in these very prestigious positions, and how they got there.”

The other honoree was Loung Ung, whose bestselling memoir “First They Killed My Father” was adapted into a movie directed by Angelina Jolie.

She told the crowd about her upbringing in Cambodia, having to fight to survive the Cambodian Genocide. She discussed how her father was taken by government forces, and how her mother sent her and her siblings into a warzone when she was 7.

She couldn’t understand it at the time, she said, but her mother knew that “if she couldn’t keep us alive, together, she had to separate us and give us a chance to survive apart.”

She was forced into a camp for child soldiers, where she learned to hate, she said. She was eventually freed in 1979 when she was 9, she said, but “had that not happened I am very confident I would have become a very effective destroyer of love.

“Even in the midst of those dark times, when I questioned if there was such love in the world,” she said, “others were sending me love that I didn’t know.”

She described how volunteers including missionary workers later helped her and some of her family get to America.

Peace, she told the crowd, is a choice. She said Eleanor Roosevelt, who represented the best of humanity, made a choice for peace.

“It is also in all of us,” Ung said. “We only have to choose it.”

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