Moral Courage in Challenging Times: The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation Freedom Awards Gala

On September 16, the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation celebrated their annual Freedom Awards Gala, virtually. This year’s theme was Moral Courage in Challenging Times, a tribute to the people continuing to do essential work, even during these exceedingly difficult times. 

The James Foley Freedom Foundation was started in 2014 to advocate for the freedom of all Americans held hostage abroad and promote the safety of journalists worldwide. Each year, they hold their Freedom Awards Gala to honor those whose work embodies and encourages this mission. Due to Covid-19, the Gala had to be moved online, but it was equally as moving and inspiring as it would have been in-person. And, despite moving online, they still managed to raise over $78,000 for the Foley Freedom Fund.

The event’s keynote speaker was Adm. William H. McRaven, a U.S. Navy four-star admiral and former ninth commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command. The night’s other award recipients were honored with four distinctions: the American Hostage Freedom Award, the World Press Freedom Award, the Humanitarian Award and the James W. Foley Legacy Achievement Award. 

In his opening remarks, Adm. McRaven made reference to the intense times we are living in, reminding viewers of their power to impact positive change. 

“America is great, because it is good,” he said, quoting Alexis de Tocqueville. “But, if America wants to continue to be great, it must continue to be good.” He then asked viewers to reflect on who America is as a nation. 

Ali Soufan, the James W. Foley Legacy Achievement Awardee, was the night’s first speaker. Soufan is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Soufan Group and a leading national security and counterterrorism expert. 

“The number one threat we face today in America is that we’re losing our position as a global leader,” Soufan said. “The coronavirus has exposed this truth, that we are abdicating our leadership. This is the first time that during a national crisis, America is not leading.”

Gala attendees also heard speeches from Hostage Freedom Awardee Jason Poblete, World Press Freedom Awardee Anna Therese Day and Humanitarian Awardees the Free Burma Rangers (accepted by Founder David Eubank).

Executive Director Margauex Ewen (left) speaks virtually with Anna Therese Day.

The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation was founded by Diane Foley, in response to her son James’s kidnapping, and eventual murder, while reporting in Syria as a freelance journalist. He was killed in 2014, and it was just this week that two ISIS militants were charged in his, and four other Americans’, torture and deaths. Diane Foley said the charges were a huge step towards justice. 

The Foley family wanted to ensure that no other family would have to endure the tragedy their family faced when negotiating for Jim’s safe return. Their work and fundraising is thus focused on both improving hostage negotiation tactics and also preparing and supporting journalists in whatever scenarios they may face.

With their emphasis on journalist safety, one of the discussion topics discussed was the recent increase in aggressions against journalists during this summer’s racial justice protests. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has reported 850+ aggressions against journalists while covering Black Lives Matter protests, as of October, 8, 2020. Awardee Anna Therese Day, who has spent time as a reporter, filmmaker and researcher in the Middle East, said that the violence against both protesters and journalists this summer has been “horrifying.”

As one of the event’s sponsors, Make it Better Media Group was able to submit a question to the panel for discussion. We asked how best to protect journalists’ safety in the wake of these reported aggressions against the press.

Day and Poblete both provided feedback to our question, emphasizing that journalism is a First Amendment Right and reporters’ safety must be depoliticized and recognized as a human right. 

For more information on how you can support the James Foley Legacy Foundation, and the life-saving work they are doing, visit their website:

You can also participate in their upcoming 2020 James W. Foley Freedom Run, an annual run to remember Jim’s life and legacy. The run will take place, virtually, on October, 17.

More from Better:

Madison Muller is the Assistant Digital Editor at Better. A recent graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, she approaches our contemporary media environment with compassion and candor. She is interested in writing about the intersectionality of social justice issues in marginalized communities and environmentalism. Madison proudly supports Action Now, a community organization that empowers and uplifts residents on Chicago’s West Side.

She also encourages reading and supporting The Marshall Project, a non-profit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system. 

You can keep up with her reporting on Twitter and Instagram

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