As the debate around Immigration continues to dominate headlines around the country and as the Trump administration continues to roll out stricter policies around the issue, Ellis Island, known as the gateway to America, is celebrating immigrants and their families at the annual Family Heritage awards where this years honorees include an NBA basketball legend, a prominent philanthropic family, and a television news anchor.
Basketball hall of famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and social activist , businessmen and philanthropists Andrew and Jonathan Tisch of the famed Tisch family and co-anchor of ABC's Good Morning America Robin Roberts were all honored during the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation’s 14th Annual Family Heritage Awards. The awards recognize notable American leaders and personalities inside the very building their ancestors passed through on their way to achieving the American Dream. Andrew Tisch, whose ancestry dates back more than a century reflected on the importance of keeping the immigrant dream alive.
“Since the first non-Native Americans arrived, virtually every person who has come here sought to take advantage of opportunity, America is a place where one could succeed with the least interference America is and should always represent the ideals that allowed Shlomo and Dinah, and Sadie and Al, and Larry and Billy, and Joan and Bob, and all our family to prosper as Americans.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s American story began in 1917 when his grandparents sailed from Belize, then part of British Honduras, to the U.S. before settling in Brooklyn, where he was born in 1947.
“In the four days coming from Mobile to New York, my grandmother kept worrying that the train was going to run out of land and go into the ocean.”
Jabbar, who would go on to become arguably one of the best basketball players to step foot on the court, calls the current climate of hostility against immigrants is absurd.
“Immigration is one of the life bloods of our country, all the ambitious hard working people that come and support what we’re trying to do here has always been a benefit to our country.”
Fellow honoree Robin Roberts’s family history, like many African Americans dates back to the days of the U.S. slave trade. Her father who was born and raised in New Jersey went on to become a Tuskegee airman. Roberts has risen to prominence as an award-winning broadcast journalist, and was the first black woman to anchor Sports Center on ESPN in 2005 she went on to become a co-anchor of Good Morning America. Roberts says the current narrative around immigration makes the award even more relevant.
“We all got here in a different way but we’re here now and we’re Americans.”
Roberts captured the essence of the event best when recalling a fond memory of her mother.
“My mother had this wonderful way of saying about just look all around us, this tapestry, that there’s such richness in this country, and there are far more similarities than differences, so why not embrace and celebrate all those many things that we have in common, instead of those few differences.”
Roberts, the Tisch family, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar now join the ranks of previous honorees including Bruce Springsteen, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Yogi Berra just to name a few, as Ellis island family heritage awards recipients.