If you haven’t heard of CNN Heroes, you are missing out – it's a pageant with substance, honoring those worthy of recognition. CNN Heroes started in 2007 and its focus is ordinary people from around the world, who with a compassionate heart go out of their way and “make an extraordinary difference in their communities and beyond.” Nominated by people from around the world and highlighted on CNN, the votes are tallied via CNN.com, then they make their way to a blue-ribbon panel for a final ten and a winner, who are honored at a gala event: "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute."
The third annual CNN Heroes were chosen by a panel that included distinguished leaders and humanitarians like Colin Powell, Whoopi Goldberg, Ted Turner, and Elton John. With 9,000 nominations from over 100 countries, CNN Heroes captured record attention and participation this year and after seven weeks of online voting and more than two and half million votes counted, the list was shortened to that special top ten, each to receive cash prizes to carry on their tedious and selfless yet most needed work.
"CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute", hosted by Anderson Cooper, was taped before an audience of 3,000 at the Kodak Theatre and premiered Thanksgiving evening, November 26, 2009. Anderson Cooper, cute and calm as usual, opened the show: "Tonight we honor the best humanity has to offer." Not only was I exposed to stories of human suffering and tragedy around the world, I found out that we have courageous people who are willing to take a chance, one problem and person at a time, making our world a better place. I discovered that while some were motivated by their own personal tragedy or turmoil, others just saw a need. Whatever the case, each of the honorees was emotional and grateful, and all had a message of hope and healing.
For the past few weeks I had the privilege of viewing some of the CNN Heroes and their incredible stories and even though I knew that Efren Peñaflorida had been named the 2009 CNN Hero of the Year, I was moved when Anderson Cooper opened that envelope. It was an emotional moment when Peñaflorida was announced and his walk to the stage to accept his award was enhanced by the music of Mariah Carey and her heartwarming song, Hero. As the cheers silenced, a humble Peñaflorida had this to say: "Our planet is filled with heroes, young and old, rich and poor, man, woman, of different colors, shapes and sizes. We are one great tapestry…Each person has a hidden hero within, you just have to look inside you and search it in your heart, and be the hero to the next one in need".
Celebrities were featured in this tribute and with charm and talent intact bared a sense of pride and pleasure just for their involvement in this celebration, albeit no less affected by the stories they unveiled to the audience. Presenters included Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Greg Kinnear, Randy Jackson, Neil Patrick Harris, Pierce Brosnan, Dwayne Johnson, > Eva Mendes, George Lopez, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. There were also performances by Carrie Underwood, R&B Crooner Maxwell, and British pop-star Leona Lewis.
The 2009 Top 10 CNN Heroes are quite extraordinary, tending to a wide range of needs for children, from helping the disabled and getting them off the streets, to providing them with food, shelter and education, and providing a safe haven for young victims of sexual abuse.
Wine to Water provides clean water to communities worldwide, while a breast cancer survivor in Florida has taken it upon herself to bring early detection to the doorsteps of uninsured women. A veteran in Florida searches for homeless veterans and those who are struggling with addiction, so he can take them in and change their lives. A bus driver, after a long day's work, goes out and distributes meals to the hungry in Queens, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
I'm sure it was quite difficult to choose a winner from these top ten, because they are all winners – heroes. I must admit that I was too late to vote but if I had, I would have chosen Roy Foster. The inner joy expressed on Foster's face as he takes in a homeless veteran brought tears to my eyes and hope in my heart. But they all deserve our vote of gratitude as they exemplify how compassion should be revealed, not just in thoughts and words, but in actions. This is the best of humanity: something we can all be thankful for this Thanksgiving and every day.
"Then a hero comes along, with the strength to carry on, and you cast your fears aside, and you know you will survive."
- Mariah Carey