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Phoenix nurse, Flagstaff school adviser earn JFK courage award

Lauren Leander, left (AP Photo); Darrell Marks (Flagstaff Unified School District Photo)

PHOENIX – A nurse and a high school adviser from Arizona have been chosen as two of the recipients of a special Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library.

Intensive care nurse Lauren Leander of Phoenix and Darrell Marks of Flagstaff High School were among the seven honorees announced Tuesday by the library foundation.

The annual award recognizes a public official at each level of government for exhibiting “politically courageous leadership” but this group, which also included a grocery store owner and an delivery driver, was acknowledged for service during the COVID-19 crisis.

Leander and other nurses faced down a large group of protesters at the Arizona Capitol last year at a rally against coronavirus restrictions.

Leander, who cared for critically ill COVID-19 patients, went to the late April rally to show her support for Arizona’s stay-at-home order issued in March 2020.

“Leander’s courageous, silent counterprotest at a rally of hundreds of angry protesters demanding that the state of Arizona immediately reopen was captured in a now-iconic photo in which an unmasked protester stood before her at close range,” the foundation said.

Marks, single father to two teenagers, counseled students who struggled emotionally during the pandemic and pushed for better remote learning access in the Navajo and Hopi communities. The Native American also coordinated food deliveries to families in need and advocated “for voting rights in the face of efforts to disenfranchise Native Americans,” the foundation said.

“Today’s honorees put their own lives at risk to keep others safe. They inspire us all with their courage and give new meaning to President Kennedy’s legacy of public service,” Caroline Kennedy, honorary president of the foundation named in her father’s memory, said in a press release.

The awards will be given at a virtual ceremony scheduled May 26.

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