Erik K. Ward First American To Win Civil Courage Prize

Eric K. Ward, a nationally-recognized expert
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New York, NY – Eric K. Ward, a nationally-recognized expert on the relationship between authoritarian movements, hate violence, and preserving inclusive democracy, will receive the 21st annual Civil Courage Prize virtually on Friday, October 29 12:30pm ET.

This is the first time in the award’s history that an American has won the prize, revealing the dangerous proliferation of hate crimes and political violence by authoritarian and extremist movements in the United States.

In his 30+ year civil rights career, Ward has worked with community groups, government and business leaders, human rights advocates, and philanthropists to combat white supremacy, extremism, and anti-democratic activities of the far right. The recipient of the Peabody-Facebook Futures Media Award, Ward’s widely quoted writings and speeches are credited with key narrative shifts in the fight to take white supremacist violence seriously. He currently serves as Executive Director of Western States Center, Senior Fellow with Southern Poverty Law Center and Race Forward, and as Chair of The Proteus Fund.

“There are few with more experience in the realm of civil courage in the United States than Eric Ward. Eric understands the deep connections between creating and sustaining inclusive, democratic institutions and combating extremism, bigotry and racism in all its forms,” said George Biddle, Train Foundation Trustee. “We commend Eric for spending his career and life demonstrating how extremism can only be mitigated through non-violent action and facilitating common ground.” 

“The fact that I am the first ever American to win this prize is a clear and jarring message from The Train Foundation to governments and civil society domestically and internationally: the rise of authoritarianism and violent extremism has ended all illusions of 'American exceptionalism.' America's dream of achieving a multiracial and inclusive democracy is in danger, said Eric Ward. "Bigoted and authoritarian ideological movements are now an active threat to the very structures of our democracy established by the 1960s Civil Rights movement. I am grateful and proud to accept this honor on behalf of all those who continue the struggle towards a strong, multicultural democracy.”

The Train Foundation has awarded the Civil Courage Prize annually since 2000. It is presented to an individual or group who steadfastly resists evil at great personal risk. In past years, laureates have included individuals standing up against some of the world’s most repressive authoritarian regimes, organized crime syndicates, and violent religious and ethnic extremists.

Eric Ward has a special interest in the use of music to advance inclusive democracy. In 2020 he helped to launch the Western States Center Inclusive Democracy Culture Lab which works with musicians to create new narratives about anti-bigotry and inclusion, puncture the myths driving our political and social divisions, and invite people who don’t always trust politicians and movement leaders into the safe and trusting conversational space that exists between a performer and their audience.

Ward began his civil rights career at a time when the white nationalist movement was engaged in violent paramilitary activity that posed a threat to democracy and democratic participation in the Pacific Northwest. He founded and directed a community project designed to expose and counter hate groups and respond to bigoted violence before joining the staff of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, where he worked with government leaders, civil rights campaigners, businesses leaders and law enforcement officials in establishing over 120 task forces focused on human rights and anti-violence in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming.

Ward considers himself 'lucky' to have had the experience of working closely side-by-side with people who decided to leave any movements which pose a threat to democracy. "I can't take a lot of claim for that," he said in an interview with Floss Media earlier this year. "What I think I presented was a doorway out. The truth is when we break this binary of white supremacy and the white nationalism that is trying to turn it into something new, what we find out is we have a lot of problems in common. We also have a lot of dreams in common."

For further information about the Civil Courage Prize please visit: http://www.civilcourageprize.org.

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