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President Obama presents Medal of Freedom to Sidney Poitier

'Agent of change' to speak at annual session

Washington—President Barack Obama Aug. 12 named Sidney Poitier as a recipient of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom—the nation's highest civilian honor.

Mr. Poitier will take the podium Sept. 30 for the Opening General Session and Distinguished Speaker Series during the ADA's 150th annual session in Honolulu.

Mr. Poitier and 15 other recipients—notable honorees from sports, the arts, science, medicine, politics and public policy—were honored at the White House as "individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors," said a White House press statement.

President Obama said, "These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds. Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way. Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive."

(A complete list of recipients can be found on the White House Web site.)

Mr. Poitier, said the press statement, was the first African American to be nominated and win a Best Actor Academy Award, receive an award at a top international film festival (Venice Film Festival) and be the top grossing movie star in the United States. He began his acting career without any training or experience by auditioning at the American Negro Theatre. He insisted that the film crew on The Lost Man be at least 50 percent African American, and starred in the first mainstream movies portraying interracial marriages and interracial kissing.

Currently the Bahamas' ambassador to Japan and UNESCO, Mr. Poitier received the Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2000, and in 2002 was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Mr. Poitier will share with annual session attendees the story of his life, from his childhood as the son of poor tomato farmers to his pioneering cinematic career, and discuss the importance of diversity and the humanitarian causes that most deeply concern him.

Convening at the famous Waikiki Shell, this ADA-exclusive special event is free to all registered annual session attendees.

The Distinguished Speaker Series has been underwritten in part by the ADA Foundation through a donation from Johnson & Johnson Healthcare Products, Division of McNeil-PPC, Inc.

For more information or to register for annual session and special events, log on to