Museum’s Freedom Award experience full of inspiration and education

Memphis Shelby County School Board announces $200,000 grant for free museum field trips for local students.

Memphis, TN, Oct. 20, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The National Civil Rights Museum’s Freedom Award honored Stacey Abrams, Kerry Kennedy, and Dr. Clayborne Carson last night before an audience of 1,500 corporate, civic and community leaders, and engaged citizens. This year’s event included a surprise announcement as proof of the museum’s commitment to educate and inspire and its ability to leverage partnerships and resources toward that mission.


The Freedom Award experience kicked off with the Student Forum which was held in person for the first time since 2019 before 2,000 students with a livestream option for hundreds of students beyond the area. Local students participated and performed during the program, as they learned more about civil and human rights and the personal journeys of this year’s Freedom Award honorees. The museum’s Keeper of the Dream Award was bestowed upon three local students Hannah Glenn, Jade Mitchell, and Ira Sharma.

The evening events began with a walk on the Red Carpet for the honorees, performers, and all event guests as part of an inclusive and immersive experience with live-streamed interviews with the honorees and special guests. The Pre-Show Gala provided music, food, and libations throughout the indoor spaces of the Halloran Performing Arts Centre and outdoor promenade where one block of historic Main Street was converted into a combination of culinary and creative arts.

“Each of our honorees, in their own way, reflect our mission and focus on civil and human rights for positive social change,” said Dr. Russ Wigginton, Museum President. “As we honor these outstanding individuals, let us reflect on their passion and compassion for their fellow human beings.  Let us recommit to listen, learn and lead so that equal justice is the norm and injustice is put to rest."

The highlight of the day was the Award Ceremony at the Orpheum Theatre when Abrams, Kennedy, and Carson were candid and transparent about setbacks and opportunities that led them to act courageously in the struggle for civil and human rights. They acknowledged their families and the many people whose paths they crossed and on whose shoulders they stood. Abrams voiced the urgency of voting rights to treat the nation’s social ills.

“Voting is not magic. You don’t vote and things change. Voting is medicine,” Abrams said. “If you believe that police brutality should end, you should believe in voting. If you believe the right to be heard, the right to be who you are is sacrosanct, you should be voting.”

Performances by empowering poet J. Ivy with wife Tarrey Torae, and the smoothly enchanting choreography sister-group Let It Happen created excitement and audience cheers. Tobias Truvillion, ceremony host, was as engaging on stage as he was in the Memphis community this week during meet-and-greets at local businesses.


During the award ceremony, the Museum announced a $200,000 grant from the Memphis Shelby County School Board to provide field trips to the National Civil Rights Museum. through its Discovering Memphis Initiative, all MSCS students in grades 5, 8, and 11 will have the opportunity to visit the Museum this school year. 

The Museum has set a $50,000 goal to secure additional donor contributions so that even more students within and beyond Memphis can experience the transformative power of the Museum.

“I can think of few places where students get to see, hear, and feel more than at our National Civil Rights Museum,” said Memphis Shelby County School Board member Kevin Woods. “The MSCS Board with the leadership of Chair Greene, Superintendent Williams, and her dynamic team, understood the importance of expanding students’ knowledge through field trips. The administration is currently implementing a remarkable strategy to expose students at all grade bands to even more of our rich history, art, and cultural experiences,” he said.

School group participation for free museum field trips is on a first-come, first-served basis through the end of May 2024, so teachers are encouraged to make reservations promptly.  For more information, contact the museum’s Group Services Department at

About the National Civil Rights Museum:
Located at the historic Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was tragically assassinated, the National Civil Rights Museum provides an in-depth overview of the American Civil Rights Movement. Since its establishment in 1991, the Museum has attracted millions of visitors from around the world, with a profound mission to preserve the legacy of Dr. King and advocate for ongoing human rights struggles. As a Smithsonian Affiliate and a recipient of the prestigious 2019 National Medal Award, the Museum continues to inspire action and foster positive social change.

About Smithsonian Affiliations:
Smithsonian Affiliations, established in 1996, is a national outreach program that fosters collaborative partnerships between museums, educational, and cultural organizations to enrich communities with Smithsonian resources. Their long-term goal is to promote a two-way relationship between Affiliate organizations and the Smithsonian Institution, encouraging lifelong learning and discovery across America.