Ellis Island Celebrates the Immigrant Experience With Family Heritage Awards to Robin Roberts, the Tisch Family and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

By Diane Haddad

Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards

More than 12 million immigrants from around the world passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954. Around 40 percent of Americans can trace their ancestry to one or more of those immigrant arrivals.

The Ellis Island-Statue of Liberty Foundation celebrates the immigrant experience with the annual Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards to selected citizens who’ve made major contributions to the American experience.

Today, the 14th annual Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards ceremony takes place in the Great Hall. This was once the Registry Room, where immigrants would form long lines and undergo inspection before entering the country.


Recipients of the 14th Annual Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards

Robin Roberts Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards

Robin Roberts, “Good Morning America” anchor and founder of Rock’n Robin Productions. Her revelation that she needed a bone marrow transplant for myelodysplastic syndrome led to a 1,800% spike in donor registrations. (Fun fact: her father was a Tuskegee Airman.)

Tisch Family Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards

The Tisch family, descendants and spouses of businessmen Bob and Larry Tisch.  The brothers’ parents, Al and Sayde, were Russian Jewish immigrants in New York. The family’s goodwill has benefited universities, medical centers, parks, the arts and more. (The photo shows Bob, Al, Sayde and Larry.)

Kareen Abdul-Jabbar Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, professional basketball legend and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient. He’s said a French planter named Alcindor brought his family as slaves to America from Trinidad in the 18th century. Other ancestors arrived at Mobile, Ala.

These recipients join 80 past awardees. They include former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, baseball great Yogi Berra, entertainer Jerry Seinfeld, former secretary of state Gen. Colin Powell, tennis star Billie Jean King, and musician Bruce Springsteen.

My Haddad ancestors came through Ellis Island in 1900. I was lucky enough to visit the immigration museum there a few years ago. You do feel a connection to history when you’re standing in the same places your ancestors stood, getting as close as you can to an experience that changed so many family trees.

It’s definitely worth the trip if you can make it happen.