On Thursday, June 9, Navy Pier played host to Access Living’s 2011 gala, this year honoring “Lead On!” award-recipient Roger Ebert. A Hollywood-themed celebration complete with red carpet, stars along a faux Hollywood Walk of Fame, and director’s chairs, “A Night with Roger Ebert” put in the spotlight America’s most famous film critic—the only one with a star on the real Hollywood Walk of Fame. Ebert’s reviews have been in the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967, and are now syndicated in more than 200 newspapers around the world; he won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1975.
Lead On Award Recipient Roger Ebert (front left) with Marca Bristo, Chaz Ebert and Thea Flaum
In describing the reasoning behind bestowing the award—named after the rallying refrain of Justin Dart, Jr., architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act—the evening’s program read, “Since becoming disabled, Ebert has continued to dive into the work he loves…In so doing, Ebert epitomizes the values of independence, inclusion and empowerment, and demonstrates to the world that life goes on with a disability.”
After a video tribute introduced by Event Chair and Ebert colleague Thea Flaum, the award was presented by Marca Bristo, long-time friend of Ebert and the President and CEO of Access Living, who said of him, “You have demonstrated that people with disabilities have much to offer the world, not despite our disabilities, but because of them.” In his acceptance speech, Ebert spoke about how “too many people look at a disabled person and think that whatever they see defines that person… This organization is fighting on the front lines against discrimination… Its message is contained in its name. It makes a very simple request. Don't close people out because they're different. Allow disabled people the access, just the access, and they will take it from there.”
In addition to the “Lead On!” ceremonies, the evening featured a physically integrated dance performance by Kris Lenzo and Anita Fillmore, the premiere of Access Living’s new “Be the Change” video, a live auction, a raffle, and remarks by Corporate Chair Timothy P. Maloney, Illinois President of Bank of America. The event, emceed by the iconic Chicago television broadcaster Warner Saunders, was attended by nearly 600 people and raised over $565,000 to support the work of Access Living.