Humphrey School News—April 25, 2019

Awards Ceremony Honors Leaders for Advancing Equity and Inclusion


Group photo of the three 2019 Public Leadership Award winners: Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Gary Eichten, Brigadier General Sandy Best
(L-R) The 2019 Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Award winners: Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Gary Eichten, Brigadier General Sandy Best (Photo: Bruce Silcox)

Friends and supporters of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs gathered for a festive celebration Tuesday evening to recognize three distinguished individuals who have spent much of their lives in service to the common good, as they received the 2019 Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Awards.

The recipients are national civil rights and women’s advocate Johnnetta Betsch Cole, longtime Minnesota Public Radio News host Gary Eichten, and Minnesota Air National Guard Brigadier General Sandy Best.

“Each year we select Public Leadership Award recipients who exemplify what we try so hard to achieve through our mission at the Humphrey School: to inspire, educate, and support innovative leaders to advance the common good in a diverse and changing world,” said Humphrey School Dean Laura Bloomberg. “Tonight’s recipients are each remarkable innovative leaders, and each equally remarkable in their ability to inspire and educate us through their ethical, principled work in the world.”

More than 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.

The three awardees highlighted their beliefs in connecting with people, through public service, mentorship, and honest communication.

Johnnetta Betsch Cole

Cole, who has a long and impressive record as an advocate for education, equity, and justice,  is known fondly throughout African American society as “Sister President” for her past leadership of historically Black Spelman and Bennett women’s colleges. Referring to the attendees as her brothers and sisters, Cole spoke about the notion of kinship.

“Our very presence tonight signals that each of us has some degree of commitment to public service,” said Cole, former director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art. “We are kindred souls in the sense that like Hubert Humphrey, each of us believes that we have a responsibility to do something for the common good.”

Brigadier General Sandy Best

Best feels a similar responsibility: a passion to support and mentor others as they work to advance their careers. Best, chief of staff for the Minnesota Air National Guard, is the first female general in the Minnesota Guard.

Throughout her career, Best has focused on leading Guard members, soldiers, and their families to achieve their personal and organizational goals. She said she is proud of her accomplishments, but noted that she had help from many people along the way.

“Hard work alone doesn’t guarantee professional success. That’s why one of my highest priorities is to pay it forward and help others achieve their dreams,” Best said. “I am equally passionate about initiatives to diversify the force, encourage and empower women and minorities, ultimately ensuring equity and inclusion for all.”

Best said she will soon expand those efforts on a national level. She recently accepted a two-year appointment to serve in the National Guard Bureau for Diversity and Inclusion in Arlington, Virginia, to advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion throughout the National Guard.

Best credited the Humphrey School’s Policy Fellowship program, which she completed in 2012, with broadening her understanding of bipartisanship, inclusiveness, and the quest for common good solutions to public challenges.

Gary Eichten

Eichten, editor at large and retired program host at Minnesota Public Radio News, was honored for his career spent cultivating vital public conversations and advancing free speech. He is widely admired for his objectivity and even-handed approach to questioning guests on the Midday program he hosted for 20 years.  

He called for a return to civility in public discourse, and urged people to listen to others who may have different political perspectives.

“Everyone has a story to tell, and if you listen carefully, if you ask the right questions and keep your opinions to yourself, you can learn something new from other people,” Eichten said. “Isn’t that what we need more of today?”

He also expressed concern about the growing mistrust of news organizations.

“I am not an enemy of the American people. Nor are my old pals at MPR. Nor the folks at any other legitimate news organization. We simply are in the business of reporting real news,” said Eichten. “Unfortunately, the freedom to report the news is under attack in this country. And I hope you will do what you can to protect freedom of the press as the Founders imagined it. We can’t have a free America without it, so please don’t take it for granted.”

Alumnus Jonathan Truong

The Public Leadership Awards were established in honor of the Humphrey School’s namesake, Hubert H. Humphrey. Over the past 17 years, the annual awards dinner has raised more than $1.5 million for Humphrey School student scholarships.

A Humphrey School alumnus who benefited from a fellowship told the attendees he wouldn’t be where he is today without that financial assistance. Now, Jonathan Truong (MPP ‘13) is giving back by starting his own fellowship to honor his late father, Loc Hoang Truong, who died last fall. 

“My father was my hero. He came to this country as a refugee to escape the Vietnam War and to fight for a better life in this great land,” said Truong. “He understood the value of education, and he instilled in me how important it was to capitalize on such an opportunity.”

The Loc Hoang Truong Fellowship will support first-generation college students and those interested in improving opportunities for refugee communities. The first fellowship will be awarded to an incoming student this fall. 

See photos of the event

Watch the winners' remarks

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