Awards Celebration Honors Public Leaders for Building Coalitions, Making Connections
Strengthening communities and building coalitions was the theme of this year’s Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Awards, as the Humphrey School of Public Affairs celebrated four distinguished recipients for their leadership and service to communities in Minnesota and around the world.
That spirit was evident during the gala dinner and awards ceremony on June 28, as the honorees, sponsors, and guests celebrated their ongoing relationships and made new connections.
Look no further than the award winners. Tom Swain, a lifelong Minnesotan who’s approaching his 96th birthday, made an immediate connection with Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a Southerner who has spent most of her career in Africa, whom he had met only minutes earlier.
Thomas-Greenfield, who recently retired after 35 years in the Foreign Service, said later that she will take a lesson from Swain’s philosophy to keep active, no matter your age. “If I can accomplish what Tom has done when I’m 96 years old, it’ll be wonderful,” she said.
Alumni awardee Monica Meyer (MPP ’99) spoke of her connection to the Humphrey School as she recalled her years as a graduate student there.
Meyer, executive director of OutFront Minnesota, thanked the School’s leaders and faculty for making her feel welcome, after she had experienced bullying and ostracism for her sexual orientation.
“I feel fortunate that I was able to attend the Humphrey School,” she said. “When I first came here I expected to be treated as an outsider. But I was accepted for who I am and I am so grateful for that.”
Then there is the connection between Thor Companies, another honoree, and the event’s two largest sponsors, Medtronic and Target. Thor, one of the largest African American-owned construction companies in the country, is based in Minneapolis and is currently building a new $30 million corporate headquarters in the economically challenged neighborhood of North Minneapolis.
Target is a significant investor in the project, as part of its commitment to revitalizing that part of the city.
Thor’s connection with Medtronic, the world’s largest medical technology company, goes back to the beginning, said Thor founder Richard Copeland. “Medtronic was one of the first to believe in Thor when we started in 1980,” he said.
Medtronic also partners with the Humphrey School, and that relationship is a natural fit, according to Rob Clark, the company’s vice president of global communications and corporate marketing, and a member of the School’s dean’s advisory council.
Clark, who served as co-chair of the award event, told the attendees he is proud of the Humphrey School’s focus on preparing students to go out into the world and lead.
“Never has our nation needed leaders with the values of mutual respect, dignity, and collaboration than we do now,” said Clark. “Those traits are consistent with the vision of Hubert Humphrey and of Walter Mondale, for how we all should engage in the public square.”
Humphrey School Dean Laura Bloomberg emphasized the award recipients’ decades-long commitment to improving the lives of others around them.
“I am proud that we are shining a bright light this evening on these recipients, whose dedication and focus embody our vision of leadership,” said Bloomberg. “This notion of leading to advance the common good is hard work. It requires dedication, focus, courage, and endurance. It requires grit. It requires heart. The leaders we recognize this evening embody all of these traits.”
The 15th Annual Public Leadership Award winners are:
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and former director general of the Foreign Service, for her more than three decades of work promoting the values of humanitarianism and responsible global engagement.
THOR Companies, one of the largest African American-owned construction companies in the country, for its innovative approach to economic development, bringing opportunity and revitalization to North Minneapolis through strategic partnerships and investments.
Tom Swain, former Lilydale mayor and former University of Minnesota vice president, for his long and distinguished life of active citizenship, and his commitment to education and government, developing opportunities for future civic leaders.
Monica Meyer, executive director, OutFront Minnesota, for her leadership in grassroots organizing and in political strategy and advocacy, building coalitions among community activists around Minnesota.
During their remarks, the honorees all spoke of the need for more collaboration and cooperation in the political arena, the need for more commitment to public service, and the important role played by the Humphrey School in preparing leaders of the future. The following are excerpts:
“To be realistic today is to be visionary. To be realistic is to be starry-eyed,” said Thor CEO Ravi Norman, quoting Hubert Humphrey. “We are visionaries, because we want to continue building, transforming, and sustaining healthy communities.”
Thomas-Greenfield also quoted Hubert Humphrey. “He once said, ‘we can all make a difference,’ and that’s what I have strived to do in my career. I have risen every day with the hope that I will make a difference in someone’s life.”
“As I look out at this room full of people, I see champions,” Meyer said, praising Minnesotans for their activism and their commitment to social change. “You do not sit on the sidelines when you see injustice. You work so hard to make the world a better place.”
Swain, who has been an active citizen for more than 70 years, says the past 20 years have been among the best in his life.
“My motto is, ‘You’re never too old to take risks.’ I have and it’s one of the reasons I’m still around,” said Swain. “A recent survey of elderly in the last stages of life disclosed most wished they had taken more chances. The most basic steps to feel young are staying involved, keeping up with the times, and doing your part.”
Nearly 400 people, including many dignitaries from politics, business, and the nonprofit sector, attended the event to recognize the awardees and help raise money to fund scholarships for Humphrey School students. Over the past 15 years that amount has exceeded $1.5 million.
One of the many students who benefited from a fellowship told the attendees the financial assistance he received allowed him to be the first of his family to attend college. Lawrence Karongo (MPP ’17) , who was born in Kenya and grew up in the Twin Cities area, received the Marvin Borman Public Service and Community Engagement Fellowship when he began the Master of Public Policy program at the Humphrey School in 2014.
Karongo said the Borman Fellowship gave him the opportunity to learn from some of the greatest minds in public policy at the Humphrey School, and helped him find his passion for public service.
Thomas-Greenfield summed up the theme of the awards night when she called for a renewed commitment to the ideal of public service.
“There is no more honorable profession than to serve the people and government of your country,” she said. “In this time in our history when many young people question whether they want to serve, there is no better time, no more important time, for this generation to stand up, raise your hand and step up to the plate. Your nation, your community, and the world needs you.”