CNN Heroes is not your typical Los Angeles awards show. Sure, there was a glamorous red carpet with photographers shouting and snapping away, an elaborate stage design, and a highly choreographed show, but on Sunday night at the Shrine Auditorium, the celebrities weren’t the ones being honored. They were there to pay tribute to 10 incredible individuals who are making a difference in the world.
The celebrity with a cause is not a new phenomena, but from Susan Sarandon to 50 Cent to Rico Rodriguez, all who attended were keenly aware of their platform and unique ability to elevate the names and causes of those who, otherwise, would not receive such high profile recognition.
Pushpa Basnet, creator of the Butterfly Home that supports children in Nepal who are forced to live with their parents in prison, was voted the CNN Hero of the Year and awarded a $250,000 grant to continue her work.
Click through to the next page to find out who else was honored, and what host Anderson Cooper, presenters Viola Davis and Adrien Brody, and others had to say about being there.
The tone alternated throughout the night from somber, to hopeful, to downright silly, which seemed about right for an event honoring those who’ve thrived despite horrific personal tragedies. Anderson Cooper would quote F. Scott Fitzgerald (“Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy”) and then David Spade would joke about doing his part to help rich Hollywood kids who don’t have BMWs yet. But the ceremony was quick moving and grounded in appreciation for the 10 honorees, each of whom received a $50,000 grant for their work.
Academy-Award nominee Viola Davis presented an award to Razia Jan, who educates girls for free in Afghanistan. Davis said that she lends her name to the event “to elevate the lives of people who are living a life bigger than themselves. They are out there and they are living a purposeful life. These are the people changing the world.”
Prolific tweeter and Raising Hope star Martha Plimpton came to the event to support Razia Jan as well, and also to learn from experts in the field. “I’m really impressed by each one of these people who are being honored tonight,” she said. “Every single one of these people has a bravery that you don’t come into contact with every day — particularly in my line of work. And I’m full of admiration and respect for them.” Plimpton also runs her own non-profit organization, A Is For which aims to protect reproductive rights.
“It’s important that we acknowledge kindness and heroic gestures,” said Adrien Brody, who presented an award to Connie Siskowski for starting the American Association of Caregiving Youth. Siskowski’s organization supports children who take leave from school to care for a family member — an issue that Brody is particularly passionate about, and that his 2011 film Detachment addresses. “Those children, individually, are so heroic and forced into that position,” he said. “They face huge burdens and it’s not really acknowledged. So I’m honored that they’ve asked me to be here and to help shed a little light on that.”
Every celebrity had a personal reason to present to their particular honoree. Jane Lynch, a dog lover and PETA supporter, presented to Mary Cortani, who runs an organization that uses shelter dogs to help war veterans with PTSD. Gold-medal swimmer Cullen Jones presented to Wanda Butts, who has devoted her life to providing swimming education. And Miranda Cosgrove, who’s spent the past few years visiting children’s hospitals, presented the Young Wonders award to the Jessie Rees Foundation, which supplies care baskets to sick children.
Homeland’s Navid Negahban echoed the sentiments of many, saying, “I think this event shows us that each of us has the power to make a difference.”
Havey Keitel told the audience, “You may think you’ve got what it takes to be a hero, and you do. They’re just ordinary people, till they’re heroes. And we need those people more than ever.”
“Heroes speak one language,” Keitel added. “The language of humanity.”
2012 CNN Heroes
Pushpa Basnet, Butterfly Home (CNN Hero of the Year)
Wanda Butts, The Josh Project
Mary Cortani, Operation Freedom Paws
Catalina Escobar, Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar Foundation
Razia Jan, Zabuli Education Center
Thulani Madondo, Kliptown Youth Program
Leo McCarthy, Mariah’s Challenge
Connie Siskowski, American Association of Caregiving Youth
Scott Strode, Phoenix Multisport
Maya Villard-Appolon, KOFAVIV
CNN Young Wonders
Cassandra Lin, Project TGIF: Turn Grease Into Fuel
Will Lourcey, FROGS: Friends Reaching Our Goals
Jessica Rees, Jessie Rees Foundation