2023 Race Amity Medal of Honor recipients announced

2023 Race Amity Medal of Honor recipients announced

The National Center for Race Amity has announced the four recipients of the 2023 Race Amity Medal of Honor: John Calipari, University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach and advisor/mentor to NBA players of color; Debby Irving, best-selling author of Waking up White; Fortune 500 diversity consultant Robert C. Henderson, Ed.D., and Steve Sarowitz, philanthropist founder of the Wayfarer Foundation and principal of Paylocity and Blue Marble companies.

The 2023 awardees will join a roster of notable Race Amity Medal of Honor recipients, which include civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, President Michael Higgins of Ireland, renowned philosopher and activist Cornel West, and recently deceased law professor and attorney Charles Ogletree (See past recipients).

The National Center for Race Amity created the Race Amity Medal of Honor awards program in 2013 to recognize and honor individuals who have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to advancing access and equity in society through interracial partnerships. The awards are generally presented at a banquet held annually on the eve of the National Race Amity Conference each November.

Tickets Now Available!

This year’s Race Amity Medal of Honor Awards Dinner will be held on the opening night of the National Race Amity Conference, Thursday, November 9, at 6:30 pm in Atlanta’s historic Mary Mac’s Tea Room, located at 224 Ponce De Leon Ave NE. The program is included in the conference registration and will feature Mary Mac’s renowned Grand Taste of the South Dinner.

Tickets may also be purchased separately on the conference registration site.

2023 Race Amity Medal of Honor

Recipient Profiles

John Calipari

University of Kentucky Basketball Coach John Calipari, one of the NCAA Division I all-time winningest coaches, will be honored with the Race Amity Medal of Honor for his equally impressive record of courage and commitment to advancing racial justice, equity and access in collegiate sports.

“Beyond his undeniable athletic record as one our nation’s top basketball coaches, Coach Calipari has demonstrated a profound humanitarian commitment to his players, especially players of color, mentoring them and standing by them in an exemplary fashion,” said Dr. William “Smitty” Smith, Founding Executive Director of the National Center for Race Amity.

Dr. Smith cited Coach Calipari’s decision to take the knee with his team during the national anthem prior to a game at Florida in 2021 as a “distinctive statement of moral courage, as he was the only notable coach in the sports community that took such a laudable action.” Dr. Smith also noted the work of the Calipari Foundation, which mentors and supports youth in underserved and minority communities.

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Read story from University of Kentucky Athletics 

Robert C. Henderson

Robert C. Henderson, life-long social activist and Fortune 500 management and diversity consultant, will be honored with the Race Amity Medal of Honor.  

“Bob Henderson’s energetic, unflagging commitment to advancing racial justice, equity and access has impacted so many, from boardrooms to barrooms,” said Dr. William “Smitty” Smith, Founding Executive Director of the National Center for Race Amity. Smith continued, “Beginning with work as a student leader that helped shape and expand diversity at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, to serving as key architect of diversity and inclusion practices for Wegman Enterprises and other Fortune 500 companies, his eye has been on the prize of uplifting the underserved and neglected communities in our nation.”

As Principal Consultant for The Henderson Consulting Group, Dr. Henderson specializes in the development of high-performance organizations through management consulting, organization development, executive coaching, leadership, change management and strategic planning. His clients have included CEOs and executive officers of such companies as American Express, AT&T, BP/Amoco, General Electric, Prudential, United Technologies, as well as the Chicago White Sox. 

He was Co-Founder and an Executive Officer of Air Atlanta, the first commercial airline in U.S. aviation history owned by African Americans. He served as a Federal Commissioner on the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission. Henderson also served as chair of the Models of Unity: Racial, Ethnic and Religious Study in collaboration with the Chicago Human Relations Foundation. The Models of Unity Study provided a landmark analysis of intergroup unity in the Chicago metropolitan area. Presently Henderson serves on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, elected governing body of the American Baha’i community.

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Debby Irving

Best-selling author and social activist Debby Irving will be honored with the Race Amity Medal of Honor for her record of courage and commitment to advancing racial justice, equity and access across the nation.

Lauded by thought leaders Vann Jones, Peggy McIntosh, and Tim Wise, Irving has carried her message to hundreds of corporate, education, religion, and non-profit organizations across the nation. Her work for over a decade includes stimulating and spurring reflection and action through powerful presentations and workshops to diverse audiences from the World Bank and Harvard University to small town school committees and high school groups.

“Ms. Irving’s work as a white woman with its personal candor speaks to white Americans with an insight that non-whites cannot communicate,” said National Center for Race Amity Executive Director, William H. “Smitty” Smith. “Her style which is not preachy but from the heart stirs audiences to self-reflection and action.”

Irving’s best-selling book, Waking Up White, is recipient of the Independent Publishers Award, and is a must-read staple in dialogues on race relations. According to Van Jones, author and former assistant to President Barack Obama, “Debby Irving’s powerful Waking Up White opens a rare window on how white Americans are socialized. Irving’s focus on the mechanics of racism operating in just one life — her own — may lead white readers to reconsider the roots of their own perspectives — and their role in dismantling old myths. Readers of color will no doubt find the view through Irving’s window fascinating and telling.”

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Steve Sarowitz

Steve Sarowitz, founder of Wayfarer Foundation and Paylocity, and co-founder of Wayfarer Studios, will be honored with the Race Amity’s Medal of Honor for his commitment and work in advancing racial justice, equity, and access through his entrepreneurship and philanthropy.

“Steve Sarowitz is a servant to the underserved in the mold of the legendary Julius Rosenwald,” said Dr. William “Smitty” Smith, Founding Executive Director of NCRA. “Steve’s collaboration and work with the underserved to develop organizations and programs centered on needs as defined by them places his service in a different category from other philanthropic enterprises. This is particularly evident in his focus and support of Native American communities.”

Mr. Sarowitz, Founder and Chairman of Paylocity, a human capital management software company, has focused his philanthropic work on promoting unity and universal education and on working to eliminate racism, sexism, and religious prejudice. He served as executive producer for the award-winning documentaries “Maya Angelou: And Still, I Rise” and “The Gate: Dawn of the Baha’i Faith.”

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