The annual John Brown Day has been set for Saturday, May 5th at 2 pm at the John Brown Farm in Lake Placid. Environmental advocate Jen Kretser, criminal justice reformer Soffiyah Elijah and poet Martín Espada are set to receive Spirit of John Brown Freedom Awards.
The annual event, which is organized by North Country-based human rights and freedom education project John Brown Lives!, is free and open to the public. A reception will be held at the Olympic Jumping Complex at 5 pm following the event; tickets for the reception are $30 and include a drink.
The Spirit of John Brown Freedom Award honors women and men whose work invokes the passion and conviction of the 19th-century abolitionist who dedicated his life to the cause of liberation for enslaved African-Americans. The award celebrates leaders and innovators in civil and human rights whose courage, creativity, and commitment are models for others to follow.
Jen Kretser is director of programs and the Youth Climate Program at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake. There, she has led an effort to provide teens the tools they need to reduce or mitigate the impacts of climate change in their own communities. Using The Wild Center’s Adirondack Youth Climate Summit as a model, Kretser has helped young people around the U.S. and the world develop carbon reduction plans for their high school and university campuses. Kretser received the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Champion Award in 2015, and the Youth Climate Program has been recognized by President Barack Obama and the United Nations.
Martín Espada, called “the Latino poet of his generation,” has published nearly 20 books as a poet, essayist and translator; his latest is Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (Norton, 2016). Throughout, his work has striven to give a voice to marginalized groups, such as immigrants and the working class. He has received the Shelley Memorial Award, the Robert Creeley Award, the National Hispanic Cultural Center Literary Award, an American Book Award, the PEN/Revson Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Formerly a tenant lawyer in Boston’s Latino community, Espada is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Soffiyah Elijah is executive director of the Alliance of Families for Justice, a group she began to stir change in the nation’s mass incarceration policies by empowering the formerly incarcerated and their families. The group provides counseling to help the formerly incarcerated re-enter society, provides legal referrals to individuals whose human rights have been violated in prison and leads voter registration drives, among other efforts. In her 35-year career, Elijah has been a criminal justice attorney and the first black woman to serve as executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, a 174-year-old organization that advocates reforms in the criminal justice system.
Past recipients of the award have included actor and activist Danny Glover; Aaron Mair, past president of the Sierra Club; and civil rights leader Alice Green, among others.
Dawn Tyler Watson, hailed as “one of Canada’s true blues treasures” by Blues Music Magazine, and vocalist Max Alden Smith, former mayor of Oneida, NY, will perform during the awards ceremony.
In addition, guests can view “Dreaming of Timbuctoo,” an exhibition that chronicles the efforts of black New Yorkers to gain the right to vote in the 1840s that led several families to relocate and settle on 40-acre land grants of Adirondack wilderness. The exhibition, curated by John Brown Lives!, was updated and installed permanently at the farm in 2015.
John Brown Day is held annually to mark the birthday of the great abolitionist, who was born May 9, 1800. Brown is best known for the raid he led on the U.S. Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Va., in 1859 in which he and his followers tried to confiscate weapons to use in an effort to liberate slaves and ultimately dismantle the institution of slavery. Brown, who was captured, tried and executed for treason, is buried at the farm alongside several family members and followers who also fought in the raid to end slavery.
For more information about John Brown Lives!, visit their website.
Portrait of John Brown.