My Brother’s Keeper Wins ALBA/Puffin Award at Healthcare-Focused Gala

May 11, 2021

“All you fascists, you are bound to lose,” sang Billy Bragg, the legendary British folk singer and activist, at ALBA’s annual gala on May 2. Bragg was one of the event’s featured musical guests, along with Miriam Elhajli, the cast of the musical Goodbye Barcelona, and Guy Davis—the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and bluesman, whose parents, the actors and activists Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, were longtime friends of the veterans of the Lincoln Brigade. (You can re-watch the entire event at our website.)

Among the event’s highlights was the acceptance of the ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism by June Gipson, the CEO of My Brother’s Keeper, a Mississippi-based non-profit that works to improve the health and well-being of minority and marginalized populations in the United States. “Healthcare is a human right,” Neal Rosenstein, the President of the Puffin Foundation, said in his speech. “And yet in a country as wealthy as the United States, healthcare isn’t a right, but all too often a condition of privilege.” Another speaker was Dr. Paul Blanc, of the University of California, whose mother, Esther Silverstein, was among the more than 100 medical volunteers from the United States who treated the wounded and ill in Spain.

Dr. Vikas Saini, a Boston-based cardiologist, drew connections between the fight for affordable healthcare and the activism of the Lincoln Brigade. “Those connections run deep,” he said, highlighting the long list of medical innovations implemented during the Spanish Civil War, from mobile blood banks to topical antibiotics. “It’s hard to remember today, with our cult of entrepreneurial innovation,” he added, “but the inventiveness of the Brigades came from someplace completely different. Here was a group of 2,800 people who took up the cause of the Spanish Republic as their own. What really drove them was in their hearts—and that is the lesson for us today. The dedication of the Brigades was timeless. What drove them is at the heart of our identity as a species. We’ve survived because we take care of one another. The lesson of the Brigade is a strategic insight for the years ahead, because our shared biological frailty can unite us.” Dr. Saini is the president of the Lown Institute, a think tank advocating for a radically better American healthcare system, and founding co-chair of the Right Care Alliance, a grassroots network of physicians, nurses, patient activists, and community leaders dedicated to creating public demand for care that is safe, effective, affordable, and just.

My Brother’s Keeper HIV Testing Campaign. Photo MBK.

Last year’s award winner, No More Deaths (NMD), which works to save the lives of migrants crossing the desert, reported from the American Southwest. “Like the rest of the world,” one of NMD’s volunteers said, “our work was reshaped by the Covid pandemic, the resurgence of right-wing violence, and the righteous movement to dismantle white supremacy. The ALBA/Puffin Award allowed us to address these problems in concrete ways. Covid has amplified global injustices that force people to migrate as an act of survival.”

One of the largest monetary awards for human rights in the world, the ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism is a $100,000 cash prize granted annually by ALBA and the Puffin Foundation to honor the nearly 3,000 Americans who volunteered in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) to fight fascism under the banner of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. An initiative to sustain the legacy of the experiences, aspirations, and idealism of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the award supports contemporary international activists and human rights causes. The late Perry Rosenstein, a philanthropist and visionary, created and established an endowed fund for this human rights award in 2010. This year’s award acknowledges the importance of health justice in America, especially at this moment, and hopes to highlight the work that community health organizations are doing during the pandemic. To see a videorecording of this year’s gala, visit ALBA’s website.