For nearly two decades, Dian Fossey immersed herself in the study of mountain gorillas in Africa. She became known as a highly respected primatologist - a scientist who studies apes and other primates - and a fiercely devoted champion of their safety and preservation. Fossey had made powerful enemies because of her opposition to the gorilla-related tourism industry and her knowledge of animal trafficking among members of the government. In 1985, she was found murdered in her cabin in Rwanda. The case remains unsolved to this day, but her intense love for this endangered species helped create a legacy that survives in the work of others to this day.
Born in Romania in 1928, Eliezer (Elie) Wiesel had a childhood steeped in the traditions of his Orthodox Jewish family. From the moment of his familys deportation to the death camp at Auschwitz and the horrors that awaited there, the teenaged Elie focused all his energies on staying alive. Elie has dedicated his life to the pursuit of peaceful, humanitarian goals as a writer and activist. He is a Holocaust survivor, Nobel Laureate and the author of 57 books, including the Night trilogy, based on his experiences as a prisoner. In 1986 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and called, a messenger to mankind.
Throughout his life, basketball superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson has met both challenges and opportunities with perseverance and leadership. Dubbed "Magic," Johnson blazed a spectacular career in basketball. His play with the Los Angeles Lakers as point guard alongside center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as well as his epic rivalry with the Boston Celtics’ forward Larry Bird, marked a legendary era in the NBA. In 1991, Magic announced he had tested positive for HIV, a virus that can lead to the life-threatening disease AIDS, and was retiring from basketball. Little was known then about HIV/AIDS and its prevention. His declaration shocked the public but succeeded in putting a familiar and much-admired face on a disease that was shrouded in fear and prejudice. Magic Johnson's legacy includes his inspirational work as an advocate for the prevention of HIV and the still-incurable disease AIDS through his own foundation, which provides programs for HIV/AIDS education and prevention, including testing and safe sex practices.
Irena Sendler was born into a Catholic family in Poland in 1910. Throughout the German occupation in World War II, Irena worked tirelessly to help save Polands Jews from the Nazi horror. Irena saved at least 2,500 Jewish children from certain death during the Holocaust. By the time of her death in 2008, Irena had been honored by the governments of Poland and Israel, Pope John Paul II, and many of those she had rescued.
Sonia Sotomayor became a household name when President Barack Obama nominated her to the United States Supreme Court in 2009. Her confirmation made her the country's first Hispanic Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. But even before that, Sonia was an inspiration to others. Sonia Sotomayor has built a life as a jurist, activist, and mother, committed to the rights and advancement of people of all backgrounds and ethnicities.
Sally Ride soared into outer space on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983, the youngest astronaut and the first U.S. woman in space. Just 32 years old that year, this California girl was already an accomplished astrophysicist when NASA chose her. Since then, she has written several books introducing young readers to the subject of space exploration and encouraging them to study the sciences.
At a time when much of the United States was still racially segregated, Jackie Robinson smashed the color barrier to become the first African-American player in Major League Baseball. Born in 1919 to a family of sharecroppers, Robinson excelled in sports throughout his school years. After serving briefly in the army during WWII, he briefly played ball in the Negro Leagues. At about the same time, a handful of all-white Major League teams paid lip service to trying out black players. But it was when Robinson played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 that he became a part of what would be called "The Noble Experiment." Outspoken in the past when it came to racial injustice, Robinson endured racist jeers from fans and players, and even death threats, with dignity and composure. His historic feat of crossing baseball's "color line" became a symbol in the American civil rights movement in the decades that followed.