The U.S. Junior Chamber (Jaycees) has named Roxana Saberi as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans (TOYA) for 2011.
The 73rd annual black-tie awards ceremony was held June 11 at the Wyndham Lisle-Chicago Hotel in Lisle, Ill.
Saberi, who is of Iranian and Japanese descent, gives presentations about human rights at schools, conferences, and rallies with a focus on Iran, freedom of expression, and overcoming adversity, often linking these issues to her captivity in a Tehran prison and the prisoners of conscience who befriended her there.
An internationally known journalist, she was imprisoned in Iran for 100 days, from Jan. 31 to May 11, 2009. She has written many articles and spoken on human rights violations that she and her fellow political prisoner experienced. She chronicles her journey in her book, “Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran.”
Saberi co-wrote a screenplay titled “No One Knows About Persian Cats,” which tells the story of young Iranian musicians struggling to pursue their love of music despite the restrictions they face. While this movie is banned in Iran because of its content, it has been a big hit on the black market.
Additionally, Saberi has released a music album inspired by people and events in her book. The compilation includes songs by Iranian musicians as well as her own compositions.
While growing up in Fargo, N.D., Saberi volunteered as a soccer coach, in a nursing home, in a homeless shelter and with a refugee resettlement program. She has donated her skills as a journalist to provide training sessions for writers and business consultants in Iran and elsewhere, and she has spoken about journalism and Iran at conferences, Rotary Clubs, schools and universities in the U.S. and Europe. She has also set provisions that at least 20 percent of all sales from her album be used to promote human rights in Iran.
In the past two years, Saberi has received a number of awards for her humanitarian efforts, including the East-West Freedom Award from the Levantine Cultural Center, the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) Award, the NCAA Award of Valor, the Medill Medal of Courage (Northwestern University), and the Ilaria Alpi Freedom of the Press Award. She has also been honored as a Female Champion of 2010 by the Japanese American Citizens League.
Prior to her imprisonment, she received several awards for journalism, including a RTNDF/RIAS Berlin Fellowship and first-place in the enterprise radio report category in 2001 from the North Dakota Associated Press. She was also chosen for the National Public Radio Diversity Initiative in 2001.
Saberi is serving on the Board of Directors for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and on the Advisory Board for United for Iran. She is also a member of the Asian American Journalists Association.
The other 2011 TOYA honorees are: Jessica Bachus, founder and president, Dolls for Daughters and Kenzi’s Kidz; Drew Brees, quarterback/captain, New Orleans Saints; Lucas Daniel Boyce, community relations/government affairs, Orlando Magic; Maj. Gene Jacobus, U.S. Air Force; Dr. Lisa Miller, assistant professor of surgery, Michigan State University; Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl; Amy Richison, chief prosecuting attorney, Huntington County (Ind.) Prosecutor’s Office; Maj. Giuseppe Stavale, provost marshal, U.S. Marine Corps; Shane Victorino, centerfielder, Philadelphia Phillies, and president/founder, Shane Victorino Foundation.
Annually since 1938, the U.S. Jaycees has sought out the 10 young men and women who best exemplify the finest attributes of America’s youthful achievers. Previous honorees have included Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, Dick Cheney, Kurt Warner, Gale Sayers, Elvis Presley and Michele Tafoya.