May 5, 2000
Boston A California state senator who overcame the strong opposition of a former governor and the California business community to win environmental protections for minority communities has been named the winner of the 2000 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award..
Senator Hilda Solis (D- El Monte), the first Latina elected to the California State Senate, will be presented the prestigious award for political courage by members of President Kennedy's family at a May 22 ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. It is the eleventh Profile in Courage Award and the first to be received by a woman.
The John F. Kennery Profile in Courage Award is presented annually to an elected official who has withstood strong opposition from constituents, powerful interested groups or adversaries to follow what they believe is the right course of action. The award is named for President Kennedy's 1957 Pulitzer prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. Senators who risked their careers to fight for what they believed in. The award, which is accompanied by a $25,000 stipend and a silver lantern representing a beacon of hope, was created by the Kennedy Library Foundation in 1989 and is presented annually, on or near May 29, in celebration of President Kennedy's birthday.
Described by one account as a politician who "hasn't shied way from challenging the old boy network both within and without the Latino community," Senator Solis took on entrenched economic interests as she sought relief for minority communities that suffered the ill effects of haphazard enforcement of environmental laws. Her legislation on environmental justice sought a wide range of efforts to counter what Solis believed to be a disproportionate number of waste sites and polluting factories in poor neighborhoods, many with large numbers of Latinos or African Americans. Solis' own district is home to eight landfills, a federal Superfund toxic waste cleanup site, and several mines and factories, many near schools.
"Senator Hilda Solis clearly demonstrates why the art of politics is a noble profession essential to a healthy democracy," said Caroline Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Library Foundation. "Her ability to surmount political obstacles and entrenched opposition to secure protections for a disenfranchised minority was skillful and courageous. She is a source of inspiration for those who share my father's belief that one person can make a difference, and that every person should try."
Senator Solis' initial bill was introduced into the California State Senate in February, 1997, but was vetoed by then-Governor Pete Wilson who sided with the strong business lobby opposed to additional environmental regulations. Solis refused to give up and reintroduced new environmental justice legislation to the state legislature. Arguing that polluting projects were located near minority and low-income neighborhoods in disproportionate numbers, Solis successfully marshaled support for the environmental justice bill. Defined as "the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of Davis in October 1999. The legislation is the first of its kind.
This year's recipient of the 11th John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award was selected by a nine-member committee whose chairman is John Seigenthaler, Chairman of the Freedom Forum at the First Amendment Center, Vanderbilt University. The committee's other members are: David Burke, former executive vice president of ABC News and former president of CBS News: Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children's Defense Fund; Antonia Hernandez, President of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Edward M. Kennedy, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts; Caroline Kennedy, author, attorney, and president of the Kennedy Library Foundation; David McCullough, historian and author of the Pulitzer prize-winning biography Truman; Alan Simpson, former U.S, Senator of Wyoming, and director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government; and Olympia Snower, U.S. Senator from Maine.
The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum is the nation's official memorial to President John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States. The Kennedy Library is a president library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part,, by the Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.