17th Annual Ford Freedom Award Celebrates Innovation Economy

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  • Dearborn, Mich. — Nearly 1,700 elementary and middle school students from around Michigan will hear the 2015 Ford Freedom Award scholar, Laura Weidman Powers, speak as part of the Ford Freedom Award educational outreach.

    Among the audience Powers, founder of CODE2040, an organization that provides fellowship opportunities in Silicon Valley for blacks and Latinos in engineering, will address in May are the to-be-named scholarship essay winners. Additionally, winners from last month’s Ford STEAM Lab Hackathon are scheduled to be honored.

    The Ford Freedom Award scholar is an African American who has excelled on a national or international level in their field. The scholar serves as a living legacy, carrying forth high ideals, and serving as inspiration for a new generation.

    CODE2040 takes its name from the year when ethnic minorities are expected to represent the majority of the U.S. population. The organization is working to ensure multicultural groups are trained to fill the growing number of STEM-related jobs.

    This year Ford Motor Company brings its commitment to innovation to the 17th Annual Ford Freedom Award, celebrating the achievements of past and present technology entrepreneurs. Celebrating Technopreneurs: Builders of the Innovation Economy, Ford and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History salute the achievements of three entrepreneurs who used technology to affect change: Ford Freedom Honoree Elijah McCoy, inventor; Ford Freedom Award Scholar, Powers; and special Legacy Award recipients Mitch Kapor, Lotus 1-2-3 developer, and his wife, Freada Kapor Klein, entrepreneur and social activist.

    The event takes place at 6 p.m., Tuesday, May 5, in the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit.

    “At Ford, we recognize the power of innovation and technology and the impact it has on making our lives better,” said Ziad Ojakli, group vice president, government and community relations, Ford Motor Company. “We are proud to honor these diverse individuals for their pioneering work, and we further salute them for sparking the imagination of our youth.”

    The Ford Freedom Award honoree is a distinguished African American who dedicated his or her life to improving the African American community and the world at large. The award is presented posthumously. The Ford Freedom Award scholar is an African American who has excelled on a national or international level in their field. The scholar serves as a living legacy, carrying forth high ideals, and serving as inspiration for a new generation.

    This year, the Ford Freedom Award honoree is Elijah McCoy. The son of fugitive slaves, the Michigan-raised McCoy trained as a mechanical engineer and went on to receive nearly 60 patents, many of them involving lubrication for steam engines. One invention, an automatic lubricator, distributed oil evenly over an engine's moving parts, allowing locomotives and other machinery to run continuously for long periods of time without pausing for maintenance. McCoy died in Detroit in 1929.

    This year a special Legacy Award will be given to Mitch Kapor and his wife, Freada Kapor Klein. The two will be honored for their philanthropic efforts toward educational access, diversification in technology to include more blacks and Latinos and Latinas, and also creating technological social impact in various underrepresented communities.

    Other notables attending the event and presenting include Detroit native Big Sean, multiplatinum-winning musician and founder of the Sean Anderson Foundation; Van Jones, founder of #YesWeCode; and Barrington Irving, founder, Flying Classroom. Lyndsey Scott, technology expert, app developer, actress and Victoria Secret model, will also serve as a presenter at the Ford Freedom Award VIP reception and champagne red carpet host.

    “African Americans have contributed to the technological advancement of the United States since its inception, so much so that our most recent permanent exhibit, Inspiring Minds: African Americans in Science and Technology, is completely dedicated to exploring this fascinating history,” said Juanita Moore, president & CEO of The Wright Museum. “We’re proud to partner with Ford Motor Company in presenting this year’s program in a way that highlights technology and entrepreneurship—two areas very relevant to our society’s present and future.”

    Proceeds from the event will benefit the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, also celebrating its 50 year anniversary.

    Tickets are $40 per person, or $35 for Wright Museum members. A special, limited number of Platinum VIP reception tickets are available for $185, which includes a celebrity red carpet experience, photo opportunity with the honorees and presenters. The evening’s award program will include a special concert performance by recording artist and Grammy nominee Ledisi in partnership with the Grammy Foundation.

    The Ford Freedom Award program is made possible by a grant from Ford Motor Company Fund. For additional event and ticket information, call the Max M. Fisher Music Center (Orchestra Hall) box office at (313) 576-5111.