Awards Ceremony Honors Leaders Who Share Belief in Human Potential
A spirited celebration of public service, with some basketball thrown in, honored four distinguished recipients of the 2018 Hubert H. Humphrey Public Leadership Awards on June 26 at the University of Minnesota.
The awards, presented by the University’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, recognize leaders who share an uncommon belief in human potential and use a variety of creative tools to advance our common well-being as local neighbors and global citizens.
This year’s awardees are Thomas L. Friedman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and columnist for The New York Times; Sarah Bellamy, artistic director of Penumbra Theatre Company in St. Paul; Daniel Rodriguez, executive director of Merrick Community Services in St. Paul; and Cheryl Reeve, head coach and general manager of the Minnesota Lynx professional women’s basketball team.
“Tonight we are shining a bright light on leaders whose creative and incisive work inspires us, and encourages all of us to think more broadly about who we are as neighbors inhabiting a small planet, as fellow global citizens, and as leaders ourselves,” said Humphrey School Dean Laura Bloomberg.
Nearly 350 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 awardees spoke of sweeping changes in our society and how leaders need to quickly adapt to them.
Friedman, whose writing focuses on foreign policy, said such forces as global connectedness and rapid technology development are bringing about massive change that feels chaotic to many.
“But as I travel around the country, things look much so much better. There’s massive social innovation going on at the community level,” he said. “Business, education, philanthropists, and nonprofits are coming together to solve problems, and it’s one of the most exciting things going on today.”
Alumni awardee Dan Rodriguez (MPA ’08) is one of those community innovators, as executive director of Merrick Community Services, a social service agency helping residents on the East Side of St. Paul.
Quoting a book written by former Humphrey School Dean Harlan Cleveland, “Nobody in Charge,” Rodriguez said we are in a new world in which “the traditional holders of power have to move over and make room for new stakeholders, new players, and new leaders of many kinds. All of us have a responsibility to each other in ways that didn’t exist previously.”
Rodriguez has fostered this approach at Merrick, which is working together with several other community groups to provide workforce development services to residents who need it. “We recognized that none of us could make a significant impact if we worked alone, and I receive this award on their behalf.”
Through her leadership of Penumbra Theatre, the largest African American theatre company in the country, Sarah Bellamy is using the arts to drive civic engagement to attend to the most vulnerable people in our communities.
“My guiding light is that empathy can change the world,” said Bellamy, noting that Penumbra has always worked at the intersection of art and social change, and sometimes that has felt like a lonely journey.
“But occasions like these invite us to take inventory of the network of brilliant people around us, working in service of creating more loving, compassionate, and inclusive communities,” she said. “We’re doing our best at Penumbra to invite people to recognize that civic engagement feels good, and can be powerfully affirming.”
Reeve could not attend the event because the Lynx were playing a home game against the Seattle Storm, but the audience kept up on the action with a live feed and score updates. (The Lynx won, 91-79). In a video presentation, Reeve—who is a vocal advocate for promoting equal opportunities for women and girls beyond their time in sport—explained one key to leadership revolves around making connections.
“I can’t think of anything more empowering, that gives you more confidence, than to feel like you’re connected with other people,” she said. “When you lead with confidence and with clear direction, you have a tendency to raise those around you and empower them to then do the same.”
The Public Leadership Awards were established in honor of the Humphrey School’s namesake, Hubert H. Humphrey. Over the past 16 years, the annual awards dinner has raised more than $1.5 million for Humphrey School student scholarships.
One of the many students who benefited from a fellowship, Haley Cramer (MPP ’17) told the attendees the financial assistance she received from the Marvin Borman Public Service and Community Engagement Fellowship helped determine her career path.
“I came to the Humphrey School with no experience in politics or the public sector, but with a deep passion for the arts. I’m incredibly grateful for the Borman Fellowship as it allowed me to combine my passion for art and my interest in nonprofit work,” said Cramer, who now works at Artspace, an affordable housing nonprofit that serves artists.
Friedman, who grew up in St. Louis Park, said there’s something special about Minnesota that makes it a place where politics can still work, even as it did in the 1970s when Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, and Arne Carlson were leaders.
“There is a high level of trust in Minnesota relative to other parts of the country. It’s changing and evolving, but we still have that trust,” said Friedman. “That’s the challenge to the Humphrey School. You’ve got to preserve it, because the country is going to need it more than ever.”