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When it comes to making an impact on the world, many leaders often go unnoticed, but their work helps shake communities and audiences alike.

This was seen recently at The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Hidden Heroes Awards, held at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, as influencers in the world of business, media, and education were honored for their inspirational projects that help the less fortunate and invigorate the discussion of race and culture in America.

The sixth annual awards honored Steven Brown (Greyston Bakery) for creating jobs for people turning their lives around after facing prison, Tony Hillery (Harlem Grown) for building awareness around urban farming and nutrition in lower-income communities, and Jeff Steinberg for Sojourn To The Past, a program that teaches children about the many unknown heroes of the Civil Rights Movement.

The legendary Harry Belafonte also presented director Steve McQueen with the special Media Hero Award for his Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave, while civil rights pioneers Andrew Young, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Bob Moses, and Dave Dennis were presented with Freedom Summer Visionary Awards.

This year’s ceremony landed on the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, which helped register thousands of African-Americans to vote in light of the Jim Crow laws. President Obama will be honoring Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney posthumously with Presidential Medals of Freedom today (November 24). The three men were killed by Ku Klux Klan members for encouraging blacks to vote in Mississippi.

Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, the first African-American to hold the title, spoke to GlobalGrind about the importance of voting:

“I was of that generation and I see youngsters today I occasionally  meet on the street who say, ‘I don’t have a job now, I won’t have a job later, why should I vote?'” he said. “I try to reason with them and then I get angry. People literally died for you to vote and I tell them about Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. These youngsters went south knowing how dangerous it was and helped encourage blacks to register and vote and they should never ever be forgotten.”

Voter turnout hit an all-time low this year, with only 40 percent of registered voters showing up to the polls for the country’s midterm elections.

Aside from the Foundation’s countless campaigns on voting, a roundtable discussion featuring the Freedom Summer Visionary award winners and youth activists discussed the change in voter turnout, as well as the conflict in Ferguson and how protesting has evolved through social media.

The biggest treat of the night came towards the end, when Harry Belafonte honored McQueen. The two sat down for a candid discussion on race, but not before Belafonte had these kind words to say about the filmmaker:

“I am soon-to-be 88 years of age, and in the face of that raw and disturbing truth, I am so honored and so rewarded that I should have lived long enough to see the emergence of a young man in the world of culture who delivered to us one of the quintessential works of art in film,” he said. “[12 Years a Slave] is absolutely without any equivocation the finest picture dealing with a deeper and more profound look at black life, black people, black struggle, and black power.”

Before wrapping up their conversation, McQueen announced his plans for his next film profiling one of Hollywood’s finest early black American actors, singers, and activists: Paul Robeson.

Robeson, the son of an escaped slave, found fame in the theater, film, and in music. He also was a player in the Civil Rights Movement, but was later blacklisted in America for his criticism of the government during World War II. McQueen says he was fascinated by the actor as a teenager and always wanted to make a film about him:

“It was about this black guy who was in Wales and was singing with these miners,” he said. “I was about 14-years-old, and not knowing who Paul Robeson was, this black American in Wales, it seemed strange. So then, of course, I just found out that this man was an incredible human being.”

Belafonte, who was a friend of Robeson’s, will also assist the director in creating the film.

And finally, the lively ceremony ended with an electrifying performance by the Abyssinian Baptist Choir. Check out some moments from the inspiring event in the gallery below.

PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Goodman Foundation

Steve McQueen Among Honorees Of The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Hidden Heroes Awards (PHOTOS)
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