December 9th, 2021 marks the 53rd Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award Gala — an event held each year to honor, as the organization notes, “exemplary leaders across the international business, entertainment, and activist communities who have demonstrated a commitment to social change and reflect Robert Kennedy’s passion for equality, justice, basic human rights, and his belief that each of us can make a difference.”
The event is organized by non-profit human rights advocacy group Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, founded in 1968 by the family and friends of former U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The mission of the organization is to carry on Kennedy’s dream of a more just and peaceful world by advocating for human rights issues and pursuing strategic litigation to hold governments accountable at home and around the world.
The Ripple of Hope Award was inspired by Kennedy’s most famous speech, which he gave at the University of Cape Town, South Africa during the height of the apartheid system of racial segregation in 1966.
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” – Robert F. Kennedy
The 2021 Ripple of Hope Award Winners
This year, the gala will feature keynote speaker Vice President Kamala Harris and master of ceremonies Alec Baldwin, and will honor influential leaders, including:
- Stacey Abrams — a political leader, voting rights activist, entrepreneur and New York Times bestselling author. Abrams served 11 years in the Georgia House of Representatives, then became the 2018 Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia. Dedicated to civic engagement, Abrams has founded multiple organizations devoted to voting rights, improving employment opportunities for young people of color and tackling social issues at both the state and national levels.
- José E. Feliciano — co-founder and managing partner of Clearlake Capital Group. He co-founded the SUPERCHARGED Initiative, a philanthropic grantmaking and impact investment organization that invests in both nonprofits and for-profit ventures that are compatible with its goal to make a lasting impact across four key priorities: education, entrepreneurship, equal opportunity and empowerment. In addition, he serves on the board of directors for Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.
- Amanda Gorman — award-winning writer and activist. She is the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history and, in 2017, was named the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate by Urban Word. Gorman recited her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at the inauguration of President Joe Biden at the age of 22 years old.
- Deven Parekh — managing director of Insight Partners. Since joining the firm in 2000, he has been a vocal advocate for opportunity and inclusion, initiating efforts to promote women and minority leaders across Insight’s internal team, portfolio, and the wider software and investment ecosystems as a whole.
- Hans Vestberg — chairman and CEO of Verizon. Since joining the company, Verizon has prioritized its diversity and inclusion initiatives, including a $10 million pledge to support organizations dedicated to racial equity and social justice.
The Ripple of Hope Award is an esteemed honor with notable past recipients, including former President Barack Obama, Tim Cook, Dolores Huerta, Desmond Tutu, Colin Kaepernick, Hillary Clinton, John Lewis, Bono, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Nancy Pelosi, Wyclef Jean, current President Joe Biden and Robert F. Smith.
Robert F. Smith and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Robert F. Smith was awarded the Ripple of Hope Award in 2010 for his lifetime of professional and philanthropic work devoted to reducing racial inequality and increasing opportunities for minority groups. Smith joined the board of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights in 2013 and served as Chairman for the organization. As Chairman, he welcomed a number of new board members to the team, including eight new board members in 2020. In addition, Smith spoke last year on the importance of investing in environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives — a concept at the core of the organization’s Compass Investors Program. The program is a resource for a community of business leaders to learn new approaches to investing that actively consider human rights and good governance.
[At RFK Human Rights,] “eight years ago was when we started our first ESG initiative called the Compass Conference,” Smith noted in an interview at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland in 2020. “All that was designed to [improve] how…we get corporate leaders [and] shareholders to think about ESG as a forefront of what they do in the way they think about investing and actually creates sustainable returns not just one-time returns.”
Smith also actively leads philanthropic efforts to promote equality outside of Robert F. Kennedy, such as leading Fund II Foundation — an organization with a mission to increase opportunities for minority groups — as founding director and President. Furthermore, Smith was the first African-American to sign the Giving Pledge in 2017, with a commitment to invest half his net worth over his lifetime “to causes that support equality of opportunity for African Americans, as well as causes that cultivate ecological protection to ensure a livable planet for future generations.”
To learn more about the 2021 Ripple of Hope Awards and winners, as well as other work by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, explore their YouTube channel.