Sometimes it takes an act of courage to change the course of history.
Looking for a civil rights activist to highlight as the subject for his entry into the 2017 Profile in Courage Essay Contest, Daud Shad remembered admiring William Moore McCullough, an unsung hero of the Civil Rights Act.
“One thing I learned from writing the essay was that political courage comes from the most unexpected places and sometimes the most important courage comes from those people who have no connection really to who or what cause they’re advocating on behalf of. But those people end up being essential in an ever-changing world, even though they’re not going to be directly impacted by it,” said Shad, a senior at Mountain Lakes High School and president of both the Student Government Association and the National Honor Society.
“I wanted to do sort of an obscure figure that people didn’t know that much about but who was still an important part to the Civil Rights Act. McCulloch was perfect because he was a Republican working with the Kennedy Administration.”
For his efforts, Shad’s essay was chosen the winner of the national 2017 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest for High School Students. The annual contest invites high school students to write an essay on an act of political courage by a United States elected official. This year, 2,248 essays, the most ever in the award’s history, were submitted from students in all 50 states and Washington, D.C, and from U.S. citizens in Bulgaria, Canada, China, England, Germany, Japan and South Korea.
“I was very excited and surprised, too, that I won. This is my second year submitting the essay. I did most of my research last year and it didn’t make it too far but this year, I submitted it again after I did some edits and made it better,” said Shad, a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern NJ and a Mountain Lakes volunteer firefighter.
“With the JFK Centennial this year, the story kind of fell into John F. Kennedy’s legacy in a way with the Civil Rights Act. McCulloch was a person really admired by all the Kennedys which was a good essay for the Centennial, I guess.”
McCullough, a Republican congressman from Ohio, risked his reputation, career and standing in the Republican Party in 1963 when he agreed to support civil rights legislation introduced by President Kennedy. The essay describes how McCullough played an instrumental role in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, despite fierce opposition from constituents and many Republican congressmen.
“McCulloch was from an Ohio district which was overwhelmingly white and he was spending so much of his time and risking his political career because he was working with the Kennedys and he was working on something that wasn’t going to benefit directly his constituents. I found that he was taking a risk spending so much of his time and efforts on this one subject. It’s a really important story.”
The essay contest is a companion program of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, named for Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Profiles in Courage,” which recounts the stories of eight U.S. Senators who risked their careers, incurring the wrath of constituents or groups to make difficult decisions in the public interest.
Shad was honored at a Breakfast Ceremony at the Kennedy Library on May 8, and received a $20,000 scholarship award, double the usual first-prize amount in celebration of the JFK Centennial. He, his parents, doctors Saima Shafiq and Rauf Shad, and his nominating teacher, Gerome Leonardi, were also guests at the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s Dinner on May 7, where former President Barack Obama received the 2017 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.
“That proved very interesting. On Sunday night, there was a big gala. It was also a fundraiser for the JFK Centennial so there were around 800 to 1,000 people there. I was really lucky because I got to meet President Obama. He’s great. I got to meet Vice President Joe Biden. He was probably one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. He was so nice and so warm. I got to meet the two previous Profile in Courage award winners, Governor Malloy from Connecticut and former congressman from South Carolina, Bob Inglis. It was a surreal night honestly. I got to meet so many people who I admire,” said Shad, who also met many of the Kennedy clan including JFK’s daughter, Caroline.
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Staff Writer Leslie Ruse: 973-428-6671; lruse@GannettNJ.com.