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Hillary Clinton headlines Heartland Alliance benefit
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Former senator, secretary of state and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was the keynote speaker at Heartland Alliance's annual Power of Healing benefit May 14 at the Palmer House Hilton.

The event celebrated the work of the 32-year-old Marjorie Kovler Center—one of the first of its kind in the United States. The center provides mental and medical health and social services to survivors of torture. Annually, more than 350 survivors from 60 different countries receive services from the center. This year, Heartland Alliance honored Marjorie Kovler Center Founder Peter Kovler with its Robert H. Kirschner Award for Global Activism.

Heartland Alliance International ( HAI ) Executive Director Surita Sandosham spoke about the 400,000 people around the world the organization has served this year. Sandosham said she was troubled by the death of a Nigerian transgender woman for living as her authentic self and the impact it had on the entire LGBTQ community in that country. She explained that HAI works in over a dozen countries around the world and the Kovler Center has served 5,000 survivors of torture from 80 countries since its founding.

"There is so much work that lies ahead," said Sandosham. "Hundreds of refugees arrive in Chicago every year and it is estimated that 44 percent of them have experienced torture. The need for our services has outpaced our capacity."

A video featuring survivors of torture and Kovler talking about the center and what it means to him was shown ahead of host committee member Daniel Kirschner's ( Robert's son ) remarks on the origins of the award and why it was named after his activist father. Kirschner also presented Kovler with a painting ( the award ) done by a former Kovler Center client from Ecuador.

Kovler spoke about the current indifference by many people to authoritarian governments that use torture and the anti-immigrant sentiments from segments of American society. He said how important it is to fight back against these things with places like the Kovler Center. Kovler called Clinton one of the great patriots of the United States due to her many years of public service and more recently, opposition to what this current administration is doing to harm groups of people based on their identity.

"We are a part of the fight for human rights," said Kovler.

Marjorie Kovler Center Former Senior Director Dr. Mary Fabri and torture survivor, former Kovler Center client and Fabri's friend Adriana ( who told her story in a video ) took to the stage. Fabri encouraged people to visit the center and said it needs major repairs. She asked attendees to consider donating more money to help with these efforts.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker—prior to introducing Clinton and speaking about her public service record since she was a young woman—said he is proud to lead a state that calls HAI home. Pritzker said he is both saddened by what is happening around the world and in the United States and also heartened by the work HAI does across the board.

Clinton ( who received a standing ovation ) said it was an "extraordinary evening" and to "never forget the obligation we have as human beings to do all that we can to reduce the threat of and reality of torture anywhere in the world." She explained that she was grateful to be here to honor Kovler because of his dedication to ending torture and healing survivors.

"Since 1987, the center has stood as a bulwark against hate [with the work they do]. ... As Mario Gonzalez says, 'This is not charity—this is solidarity,'" said Clinton.

Clinton outlined all the services the center provides, most importantly its role as a "beacon of hope for the seven million victims of torture worldwide …and empowers survivors to become agents of change."

Speaking about the world today, Clinton said the center's work has taken on a new urgency these last few years due to the rise of hate groups and individuals both in the U.S. and around the world.

Clinton explained the origins of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and human rights are not granted by governments, they are a birthright of every person on Earth. She said 44 percent of the refugees in the U.S. are survivors of torture and the humanitarian crisis that is happening on the southern border is unconscionable. Clinton called out the Trump Administration for its harmful and cruel policies that penalize and criminalize asylum seekers and refugees and for wanting to build a wall.

"The reason why this country does so well is because our diversity is one of our strengths," she said.

Clinton said fear cannot determine the future because this country is a place of "dreamers and strivers and democracy and its ever expanding purpose."

"We have to say in a clear voice that physical and mental torture is wrong," Clinton said.

Both Clinton and Heartland Alliance President Evelyn Diaz ( who closed the event ) called on everyone there to further the work of the Kovler Center.

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