Lower 9th Ward Grocer Among 7 Awarded for Courage by JFK Foundation

Keasha and Burnell Cotlon in 2015. Photo by Cheryl Gerber

BOSTON (AP) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and six other people who risked their own health and safety to help and protect others during the coronavirus pandemic will receive Profile in Courage awards next month, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation announced Tuesday.

The recipients, who also include a grocery story owner, a delivery driver, a nurse and an activist, were selected from among thousands of nominations submitted by people around the country, the foundation said in a statement.

“Today’s honorees put their own lives at risk to keep others safe. They inspire us all with their courage and give new meaning to President Kennedy’s legacy of public service,” said Caroline Kennedy, the president’s daughter and honorary president of the foundation.

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The award is named after Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Profiles in Courage,” about eight U.S. senators who risked their careers by taking principled stands for unpopular positions.

The seven recipients of the COVID-19 courage award will be honored along with U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney during a virtual ceremony that will be aired May 26.

The Utah Republican in March was named the recipient of the annual award created by the family of the late president for public figures who risk their careers by embracing unpopular positions for the greater good.

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Romney is being honored for being the only Republican to vote to convict former President Donald Trump during his first impeachment trial.

Whitmer faced harsh backlash for her measures to control the coronavirus in her home state, including armed protests at the state capitol and an alleged plot to kidnap and kill her. Thirteen people, who authorities say were motivated in part by resentment over pandemic restrictions, have been charged in connection to the plot.

The other recipients are:

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Dr. Amy Acton, former director of the Ohio Department of Health, whose partnership with Republican Gov. Mike DeWine won praise for the state’s early and aggressive actions, including being the first state to close schools.

Burnell Cotlon, the owner of Burnell’s Market in New Orleans, who allowed dozens of customers who lost their jobs at the outset of the pandemic to take groceries on credit, putting his own livelihood at risk.

Fred Freeman, a Hanover, Massachusetts, fire captain and registered nurse who helped establish a program to deliver COVID-19 testing and other critical health services to residents who could not leave their homes.

Antonio Greene, an Amazon delivery driver in Charleston, South Carolina, who while risking his health to make deliveries noticed a sign on the door of a customer’s home which alerted visitors that he was undergoing chemotherapy and was immunocompromised. Greene brought the man flowers and a message of support.

Lauren Leander, an Arizona ICU nurse who cares for COVID-19 patients, who stood with three colleagues in support of stay-at-home orders in front of hundreds of protestors, some of whom intentionally coughed on her and her fellow nurses.

And Darrell R. Marks, an academic adviser in Arizona who advocates for the rights of the Navajo and Hopi tribal communities at Flagstaff High School, who coordinated deliveries of food and supplies to Navajo and Hopi families struggling during the pandemic and advocated for voting rights in the face of efforts to disenfranchise Native Americans.

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