The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Organization held its 51st annual Ripple of Hope Awards Dinner on Thursday, December 12, 2019, with cocktails beginning at 5:30 PM. The gala recognizes leaders from government, business, advocacy, and entertainment who are trying to effectuate positive social change. Past honorees or “laureates” include Barack Obama, Desmond Tutu, and George Clooney.
This evening was no less impressive as 1,250, mostly Democrats, gave $2,500 to pay homage to honorees Nancy Pelosi, J.K. Rowling, Wendy Abrams, and Glenn Tullman. The gala always attracts a slew of celebrities, which tonight included: Scott Wolf, Treat Williams, Sam Waterston, Don Lemon, Peter Frampton, Cheryl Hines, Gloria Reuben, Katie Couric, and Lena Olin. Master of Ceremonies, Chris Tucker, welcomed the illustrious crowd after an over one-hour cocktail reception, which included a lengthy red carpet.
Nancy Pelosi, the 52nd Speaker of the House and the first woman to be elected in 2007, was undoubtedly the main attraction of the night: arriving with a slew of security and being bombarded by fans for photographs and congratulations. She was joined by Adam Schiff, Don Lemon and, a host of “Never Trumpers” who made up the majority of the audience.
Kerry Kennedy, the head of the organization, spoke of its work in Venezuela, combating the massacres and holding the Maduro regime accountable for killing innocent people. She also heralded her controversial prisoner’s program, which provides cash -strapped individuals money for bail, declaring that it had successfully reduced the number of those held in jail from 7,000 a day to 3,300-with Rikers slated to close in 2026 due to the organization’s efforts. Yusef Salem, who was wrongfully imprisoned for seven years as part of the “Central Park Five,” thanked the group for spearheading the rights of the indigent.
Another famous advocate of prison reform, Don Lemon, said that on a personal note, he had just encountered a 65-year-old man who told Lemon he was “his hero” for coming out of the closet, something he had still not had the guts to do. This stunning confession moved Lemon as he continues to advocate for gay rights around the world. While few Republicans were in attendance this evening, the CIO of Guggenheim Investments Scott Minerd, announced that despite being a registered Republican he was contributing $500,000 and matching up to $2.5 million of any donations given that evening to combat the current immigration crisis. More than $1 million was raised within minutes, and Giancarlo Esposito noted that due to the generosity of attendees, revenue at the organization had increased from $2 to $13 million.
After a dinner of swordfish and salad, the program began with a moving tribute to the founder of “Cool Globes” and environmental activist Wendy Abrams via video by Bill Clinton and Rahm Emanuel, who praised her tenacity in fighting climate change. Another superstar of the evening was healthcare guru Glenn Tullman who founded Allscripts, which was one of the first companies to digitize health information and prescriptions- currently used to enhance the accuracy of doctors for over a billion people.
Tullman spoke of his son’s Type 1 diabetes diagnosis at the age of 8 and his efforts at his current company, Livongo, to help patients by providing personnel to answer medical questions within sixty seconds of being called. When he told his son, Sam, he could be cured of diabetes by a stem cell transplant, Sam declined, saying it was unfair for him to access a cure without it being made available to everyone. Tullman was hopeful that his future work would bring a cure to diabetes for everyone and has raised $100 million towards that goal.
A heightened sense of anticipation was settling in as 35 members of the Kennedy clan arrived on stage to present “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling with her much deserved honor. Rowling, remained in hiding most of the evening and said she would have finished her 13th novel and been a “cave-dwelling hermit” if she hadn’t been required to attend the dinner. Rowling heads her charity called “Lumos,” which seeks to end the institutionalization of children by the year 2050 with it already directly intervening on behalf of 50,000 adolescents.
In her quest to rid society of orphanages, Rowling noted that 80 percent of displaced children have one living parent, and should be given a loving home as the harmful effects of institutionalization leads one in five kids towards crime and one in seven to the sex trade. Rowlings concluded her speech by remarking she was finishing because no one wanted to hear Pelosi more than she.
Representative Joe Kennedy introduced Nancy Pelosi with a video of the Baltimore native in which she declared she had to break a “marble ceiling” to become Speaker of the House. Pelosi mostly steered away from vitriolic politics remarking her most significant accomplishment was passing the Affordable Care Act. At approximately 10:30 PM, guests gathered in the foyer for dessert and more picture-taking as dozens of Secret Service ushered out the influx of Washingtonian influencers.