CaribWorldNews, WASHINGTON, D.C., Thurs. Aug. 13, 2009: He`s known for roles such as `To Sir With Love.` Now Bahamian-American actor, film director, author, and diplomat, Sir Sidney Poitier, can add Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient to his long resume.
The 82-year-old actor, known for breaking racial barriers as the first African American to be nominated and win a Best Actor Academy Award, was among 16 others who yesterday were named as Medal of Freedom Recipients by President Obama.
The award is America`s highest civilian honor and is awarded to individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
The White House said Poitier along with the 15 other awardees, `were chosen for their work as agents of change.`
Sidney Poitier grew up with his family on remote Cat Island, in the Bahamas. However, he was born in Miami, Florida, where his parents, Evelyn (nee Outten) and Reginald James Poitier, traveled to sell tomatoes and other produce from their farm on Cat Island.
Poitier began his acting career without any training or experience by auditioning at the American Negro Theatre. In 1963, Poitier became the first black man to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Lilies of the Field.
The significance of this achievement was later bolstered in 1967 when he starred in three very well received films, To Sir, with Love; In the Heat of the Night; and Guess Who`s Coming to Dinner, making him the top box office star of that year. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Poitier among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time, ranking 22nd on the list of 25.
Poitier has directed a number of popular movies such as Uptown Saturday Night, and Let`s Do It Again (with friend Bill Cosby), and Stir Crazy (starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder). In 2002, 38 years after receiving the Best Actor Award, Poitier was chosen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive an Honorary Award, designated `To Sidney Poitier in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being.`
Since 1997 he has been the Bahamian ambassador to Japan.
`Among their many accomplishments in fields ranging from sports and art to science and medicine to politics and public policy, these men and women have changed the world for the better,` said a White House statement. `They have blazed trails and broken down barriers. They have discovered new theories, launched new initiatives, and opened minds to new possibilities.`
`These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds,` said President Obama. `Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way.
`Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive. It is my great honor to award them the Medal of Freedom.`
The awards were presented at a ceremony at the White House yesterday Wednesday, August 12.
The other honorees were South African Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, who was a leading anti-apartheid activist in South Africa; Nancy Goodman Brinker, the founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure; Dr. Pedro Jose Greer, Jr., a physician and the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at the Florida International University School of Medicine; Stephen Hawking, an internationally-recognized theoretical physicist who has a severe physical disability due to motor neuron disease; Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who has served in the United States Senate for forty-six years; Reverend Lowery, who was a leader in the U.S. civil rights movement since the early 1950s; Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, the last living Plains Indian war chief; Justice Sandra Day O`Connor, the first woman ever to sit on the United States Supreme Court; Mary Robinson, the first female President of Ireland and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Chita Rivera, an accomplished and versatile actress, singer, and dancer, who has won Two Tony Awards and received seven more nominations; Dr. Muhammad Yunus, a global leader in anti-poverty efforts who has pioneered the use of `micro-loans` to provide credit to poor individuals without collateral and Dr. Janet Davison Rowley, the Blum Riese Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine, Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology and Human Genetics at The University of Chicago.
Honored posthumously were Congressman Jack Kemp, who passed away in May 2009 and Billy Jean King, acclaimed professional tennis player in the 1960s and 1970s who helped champion gender equality issues not only in sports, but in all areas of public life; Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay elected official from a major city in the United States when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977