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National Civil Rights Museum Honors Dalai Lama, Myrlie Evers-Williams & Julius Erving for 2009 Freedom Awards


MEMPHIS, Tenn., Aug. 6  -- For the first time in the history of the National Civil Rights Museum's Freedom Award ceremonial presentation, two heralded events are scheduled to honor three individuals for their influence and commitment to peace, justice and equality. On September 23, the International Freedom Award sponsored by the Hyde Family Foundations, will be presented to His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a luncheon ceremony at the historic Peabody Hotel.


The museum is awarding the prestigious International Freedom Award to the Dalai Lama for his "steadfast commitment to protecting and defending the rights of the oppressed people of Tibet and elsewhere in the world." The museum recognizes the Dalai Lama's contributions to world peace through promotion of human values, interfaith harmony and universal responsibility.


The Dalai Lama is the spiritual and temporal leader of six million Tibetans. In 1935, he was born the fifth of 16 children to a farming family in the village of Takster in the Amdo province of Tibet.


Museum Board Chairman Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks said, "As a living example of Dr. Martin Luther King and Gandhi's non-violence in the face of political oppression and suffering, the Dalai Lama demonstrates life-long peaceful struggle against brutality and injustice. As the Tibetan people mark their 50th year in exile, the Dalai Lama's struggle serves as an inspiration for social justice movements everywhere."


He was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama when he was two years old. In 1940, he was formally enthroned as the Dalai Lama. Ten years later, the People's Liberation Army of Chairman Mao invaded Tibet. In 1951, the Chinese military coerced a Tibetan delegation into ratifying the Seventeen-Point agreement, which permitted the People's Republic of China (PRC) to officially take over Tibet. Although the agreement specifically allowed for a high degree of autonomy for the Tibetans, Chinese control intensified and oppression continued, leading to the failed popular Tibetan uprising of 1959.


In 1959, the Dalai Lama fled across the Himalayas to safety; since then, he has lived in exile in Dharamsala, Northern India. He set up schools and settlements for the more than 150,000 refugees who have followed him into exile to live freely. Under the Dalai Lama's leadership, the exiled Tibetans have a democratically elected government-in-exile.


The Dalai Lama, who often speaks of his tremendous respect for the people and history of China, has additionally encouraged and initiated productive dialogue between the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Chinese government. However, the Chinese government has failed to respond to His Holiness's conciliatory gestures and maintains an iron-fisted rule over Tibet. An intensified crackdown by the Chinese government continues today as a result of unprecedented waves of protests held against the Chinese government in 2008 by Tibetans living across the entire Tibetan plateau. The Dalai Lama has called for an international inquiry into China's treatment of Tibet which he said amounted to "cultural genocide."


A noted public speaker and the author of numerous books, the Dalai Lama is one of the most charismatic and respected peacemakers of our times. He is the first Dalai Lama to travel to the West, and he continues his teachings and lectures to promote peace, ethics and interfaith harmony. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and in 2007 the United States Congressional Gold Medal. Most recently he was made an honorary citizen of the city of Paris, France. The Dalai Lama has received more than 100 major awards and honors.


On October 27 the National, Lifetime Achievement and Legacy Freedom Awards will be presented at the Memphis Cook Convention Center at a black-tie banquet.


The National Freedom Award sponsored by International Paper honors Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain Mississippi NAACP Field Director Medgar Evers.


A true pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement, Medgar Evers was assassinated on June 12, 1963. Myrlie and their three small children saw the murder at the front door of their home in Jackson, Mississippi. After suffering through two hung jury trials in the murder of her husband, Mrs. Evers-Williams moved her three children to California. She did not see justice for the murder of Medgar Evers until 31 years later. But her persistence paid off and in 1994, she was present when the verdict of guilty and life imprisonment was handed down for Byron De La Beckwith.


At last, she was victorious, and her refusal to stop in the pursuit of justice for the assassination meant several similar cases were reopened and perpetrators were brought to justice in civil rights cases that had been deemed unsolved.


National Civil Rights Museum Board Chairman, Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks says, "Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams is a phenomenal woman of great strength and courage. Her hard work as the former Chairperson of the National Board of Directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) helped to establish this worthy organization back to its original place of prominence. Of course the perseverance she displayed in seeking justice for Medgar was a milestone in justice for the civil rights movement."


The Legacy Freedom Award sponsored by NIKE honors Julius Erving. Known as Dr. J, Erving won three championships, four Most Valuable Player Awards, and three scoring titles while playing with the ABA's Virginia Squires and New York Nets and the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers. He is the fifth-highest scorer in professional basketball history, with 30,026 points (NBA and ABA combined). He is well-known for slam dunking from the free throw line in Slam Dunk Contests.


Erving was named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time team and in 1993 was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.


His Legacy Freedom Award is for his humanitarian, business and philanthropic efforts. He was inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame as a part of the Class of 1995. Julius Erving has repeatedly been recognized for his commitment to civic issues. Some of his past awards include the Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, the Whitney M. Young Award from the Urban League and the Father Flanagan Award from Boys Town, the American Express Man of the Year Award, the Big Brothers New York City Sports Award, the David Zinkoff Memorial Sportsman of the Year Award and the National Consortium for Academics and Sports.


Erving has also served as the national chairman of the Hemophilia Foundation; the coach of the Special Olympics basketball program; the adviser to The March of Dimes; the spokesman for the Lupus Foundation, American Dental Association and Philadelphia Police Athletic League.


Erving is the president of The Erving Group, a private investment company. He also serves on the Board of Directors for several companies including Saks, Inc. and Fusion Telecommunications.


    For more information contact:
    Gwen Harmon
    (901) 521-9699, ext. 241


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