President Barack Obama awards Pamela Green Jackson the Presidential Citizens Medal for her work as founder of the Youth Becoming Healthy Project, in the East Room at the White House in Washington, February 15, 2013. Obama honored 18 Americans Friday with the medal, including six teachers who lost their lives protecting students in the Sandy Hook school shooting in December.
WASHINGTON — In the East Room of the White House, standing elbow-to-elbow with the leader of the free world, Pamela Green Jackson, of Albany, teared as she took a momentary glance upward, acknowledging her late brother who was the inspiration that ultimately led her to the capital to accept one of the nation's highest civilian honors
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The U.S. Army veteran stood among some of the nation's best and brightest civilians to receive the country's second-highest non-military honor.
"I am so humbled and honored to be in the presence of nine other outstanding individuals and the president of the United States. To be recognized at this level for YBH is amazing. I'm thrilled my family, close friends, pastor and congressman were there to support me and share my moment," Jackson said following the ceremony.
Jackson was given the award because of her non-profit organization Youth Becoming Healthy (YBH), which she established after her brother died of health complications that arose from obesity-related issues.
Standing next to President Barack Obama on Friday, Jackson said that her thoughts naturally turned to her brother.
"I was thinking that my brother would be so proud of his baby sister. I miss him so much, but this opportunity added to my motivation to continue our work," Jackson told The Albany Herald.
Before awarding the medals, which is second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom for civilians, Obama thanked the recipients for their contributions to their country.
"This is a moment when we, as a people, get to recognize an extraordinary group of people who have gone above and beyond for their country and their fellow citizens often without fairfare; often without a lot of attention," Obama said.
Also awarded the Citizens Medal on Friday were:
— Dr. Terry Brazelton, Boston, Mass., who developed the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS), which is now used worldwide to recognize the physical and neurological responses of newborns, as well as emotional well-being and individual differences;
— Adam Burke, Jacksonville, Fla., who in 2009 opened "Veterans Farm," a 19-acre handicap-accessible farm that helps teach veterans of all ages how to make a living;
— Mary Jo Copeland, Minneapolis, Minn., founded Sharing and Caring Hands in 1985, which has served as a safety net to those in the Minneapolis area through the provision of food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medical and dental assistance;
— Michael Dorman, Fuquay-Varina, N.C., founder and executive director of Military Missions in Action, a North Carolina-based non-profit that helps veterans with disabilities, both physical and mental, achieve independent living;
— Maria Gomez, Baltimore, Md., who founded Mary’s Center 25 years ago with the mission to build better futures through the delivery of health care, family literacy and job training;
— Janice Jackson, Baltimore, Md., the creator and program director of Women Embracing Abilities Now, (W.E.A.N.) a nonprofit mentoring organization servicing women and young ladies with varying degrees of disabilities;
— Patience Lehrman, Philadelphia, Pa., national director of Project SHINE (Students Helping in the Naturalization of Elders), an immigrant integration initiative at the Intergenerational Center of Temple University;
— Jeanne Manford, New York, N.Y., who with her husband, Jules, co-founded in 1972 a support group for parents of gay children that grew into the national organization known as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG);
— Billy Mills, Alexandria, Va., who co-founded and serves as the spokesman for Running Strong for American Indian Youth, an organization that supports cultural programs and provides health and housing assistance for Native American communities;
— Terry Shima, Gaithersburg, Md., executive director of the Japanese American Veterans Association (JAVA), a nonprofit organization that publicizes and assists Japanese American military veterans and their families, from 2004 to 2012 and is now chair of its Outreach and Education Committee;
— Harris Wofford, Washington, D.C., a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania who was the chief executive officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service and was the former president of Bryn Mawr College;
— Rachel Davino, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Victoria Soto, Mary Sherlach and Dawn Hochsprung, all of Newtown, Conn., educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School who died while trying to protect their young students from a gunman in December.