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Hassan Receives Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award

Source: Nashua Telegraph

Hassan Receives Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award

Newly elected United States Sen. Maggie Hassan's public service as a state legislator and governor, and her effort to make New Hampshire a "great place to live, work and raise a family," earned her the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. award.

The award, presented by Wayne Jennings of the National Cultural Diversity Awareness Council, a Manchester-based nonprofit, was given to Hassan Monday night in Nashua at the council's 15th annual dinner in honor of King.

"Here in New Hampshire, we value human rights and we see inclusion and equality as core principles," Hassan said.

Jennings said it was Hassan's work to make New Hampshire prosperous, with balanced budgets and a high quality of life, that got her the award, named for King, the slain Civil Rights icon who changed the world with his example of nonviolent resistance in the face of grave injustice.

Hassan said New Hampshire has a strong history of accepting immigrants, from the French Canadian and Irish who came to work in the mills, to the many Asian immigrants coming to New Hampshire today.

"We believe in freedom and the value of every single person," she said. "It's our duty and our destiny to extend the freedom we enjoy to all our people."

New Hampshire becomes stronger when people pushed to the margins of society are made welcome and drawn into the greater community, she said. Hassan said her vote, as a state senator, to extend marriage equality rights to gays and lesbians is an example of making the community stronger through inclusion.

In her own life, Hassan said she learned the importance of fighting for equality from an early age. Her father grew up in the segregated South, and ended fighting in the World War II Battle of the Bulge alongside African American soldiers. Her father was changed by seeing these soldiers fight for the country they loved, Hassan said.

"He came back determined to change our world for the better," she said.

Hassan has also seen inclusion make a difference for her son, Ben. Born with severe physical disabilities, Hassan said that if Ben were born a generation earlier her family would have been pressured to put him into an institution.

Instead, because of the support from the community to integrate her son, Ben is now a high school graduate.

"He's smart and funny and knows that he matters," she said.

Gov. Chris Sununu, also in attendance, and offered his perspective on diversity. Recently sworn in as governor, Sununu used his grandfather's bible, which highlighted his own family's journey as Americans.

"Here I am, a Catholic Arab American, who just took oath of office using the Greek Orthodox bible my grandfather ordered for his store in Jerusalem," Sununu said.

Sununu said racial diversity and the ideals of diversity are having a tough time in the country right now. It's an opportunity to move past bitterness and division, and to reach out to each other as individuals, he said.

"It's not about how we got here, it's about where are we going," he said.