Gov. Dannel P. Malloy received the 2016 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Sunday for defending the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S. following the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.
Jack Schlossberg, Kennedy’s grandson, presented Malloy with the award at Sunday’s ceremony, which was livestreamed from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.
He said Malloy had the “political courage to what was right, but unpopular. The courage to make a difficult choice for the greater good.”
Malloy made national headlines in November 2015 when he welcomed a Syrian couple and their 5-year-old son to Connecticut after they were told they weren’t welcome in Indiana.
Malloy choked up a bit as he received the award. He said he couldn’t look at his wife, Cathy, or he might start crying.
“When people will rise up to defame a religious group or a gender group or women, then Americans of good principle and strong heart need to say ‘not in my land’,” Malloy said. “Not in any land.”
Malloy told Schlossberg that his grandfather and his brothers were an inspiration to him throughout his life and caused him to be an advocate for “civil rights, and women’s rights and gay and lesbian and transgender rights and religious freedom and to do away with the death penalty in my state and to raise my voice when people would subjugate other individuals, would bar them at the door, because of the land they came from or the religion they practiced.”
Malloy said he was surprised by the reaction to his gesture to accept the refugees. He said even in Connecticut he “received messages of hate.”
The Syrian family Malloy invited to Connecticut was resettled in New Haven by Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services, or IRIS. They also spoke at Sunday’s award ceremony.
In Fatema, Abdullah, and their son Ayham, “we celebrate a different kind of courage,” Schlossberg said referring to the Syrian family, who is only referred to by their first names for safety concerns. “The courage to leave home because there was no choice. The courage to ask for help from another nation and other people. Your journey and your struggle puts life into perspective.”
Fatema said when they arrived in the United States they were full of life and energy and hope, but as they were entering their “hopes and dreams were let down.”
“We were told that the governor of the state where our journey was supposed to end refused to accept us. He was one of 30 governors who rejected Syrian refugees,” Fatema said. “But suddenly in the middle of darkness there emerged a light, a person who was generous in spirit and who was good, who accepted us.”
Fatema was referring to Malloy. She said not only did Malloy accept them in Connecticut, he was one of the first to welcome them to their new home the same day they arrived.
“His action reminded me the world has good people, too,” Fatema said.
The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award is touted as the “nation’s most prestigious award for public servants.”