NBJC Statement on Bayard Rustin Receiving Presidential Medal of Freedom
Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks
Executive Director & CEO
National Black Justice Coalition
In response to yesterday's announcement from the White House that President Obama will be awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to civil rights icon Bayard Rustin (posthumously), NBJC Executive Director and CEO Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks released the following statement:
On behalf of the National Black Justice Coalition and the Black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, I applaud our President for giving the late Bayard Rustin the national esteem and recognition he deserves by awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As one of the chief architects of the Civil Rights Movement and the brilliance behind the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Rustin's indispensable contributions to the ethos of our country continue to reverberate and push us toward a more just and fair society. America is indebted to Rustin, and our nation is right to finally honor him for his stalwart courage and leadership.
Rustin was a radical visionary–a Black gay activist for freedom and peace during a time when the conditions of both of these identities were perilous. The fact that he lived at the intersection of these identities while fighting for the freedoms of all oppressed people is even more revolutionary. Rustin owned his power as a Black, openly gay man to fiercely challenge the status quo and fight on behalf of the oppressed and marginalized, while at the same time refusing to be defined by any single aspect of his identity. Rustin was as unapologetically Black as he was gay, and by his very presence challenged the evils of homophobia and racism throughout his life. His legacy leaves a salient lesson for us on the power of living authentically.
However, in spite of all that Rustin was able to achieve on behalf of justice and equality, racism and homophobia has long clouded the narrative of Rustin's work, erasing him from our history books and stymying the proper celebration of his contributions to our country. Thanks to the tenacity and unabashed passion of Black lesbian activist Mandy Carter, who ushered us toward this moment and has selflessly given of herself to serve as NBJC's National Coordinator of the Bayard Rustin Commemoration Project for the last two years, I am proud that the National Black Justice Coalition has remained dedicated to giving voice to Mr. Rustin's history of social justice organizing and strategy. Our work at NBJC is a testament to the spirit of Bayard Rustin's life, inspiring Black LGBT people to own their power and teaching others how Black LGBT people navigate space at the intersection of their identities.
Rustin dedicated his life to the pursuit of human rights and justice for all in a dynamic and selfless way, and has verily earned his space in the history books. Words cannot express how elated I am to see Bayard Rustin given his just due. I thank President Obama for lifting up this important piece of our nation's history, and look forward to working with the White House and other allies, like the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU), to continue sharing the significance of Rustin's life and work through this prestigious national honor. Our dream is that more will come to know of the late, great Bayard Rustin, and will use the lessons of his life to make the world a more just and welcoming place for all people.
The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), the nation's leading Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, has launched the Bayard Rustin 2013 Commemoration Project to honor the life and legacy of the late Bayard Rustin. To this end, the AFT, APRI and SEIU have joined forces with NBJC to host "A Tribute to Bayard Rustin and the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington" with a focus on the role Bayard Rustin played in the organization and execution of the 1963 March on Washington. For more information on this event and the Bayard Rustin Commemoration Project, visit NBJC.org.