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Geddy Lee's Acceptance Speech at Artists For Peace and Justice

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Rush frontman Geddy Lee began his acceptance speech at the exclusive Artists For Peace and Justice gala in Toronto on Saturday night (Sept. 11) by cracking a few jokes and being characteristically humble, but soon got serious regarding his Lifetime Achievement Award.

“This award is about philanthropy, which I’ve always thought should be the natural behaviour of humans, rather than anything noteworthy — and too much has already been said about whatever charitable contributions I’ve made,” Lee said at the private residence of gala co-founder Natasha Koifman of NKPR.

In honouring Lee, APJ called attention to just some of the causes Lee has supported as part of Rush for 40 years or personally: Brain cancer research, Toronto Food Bank, Alberta floods, Doctors without Borders, Grapes for Humanity, United Way, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and Casey House. In 2015, Rush received the 2015 Allan Waters Humanitarian Award at the Juno Awards, and in 2017 the Allan Slaight Humanitarian Spirit Award from the Canadian Music & Broadcast Industry (read Samaritan's interview with Lee and Lifeson here).

Lee, along with his bandmates Alex Lifeson (guitarist) and the late Neil Peart (drums), were awarded the Officer of the Order of Canada in 1996, not just to their global impact as musicians [they sold 40 million albums) but their “efforts have enhanced an awareness of the plight faced by society's less fortunate, inspiring and awakening the social consciousness of an entire generation,” it states.

“I feel it’s easy for those of us who’ve been successful in life to pitch in, to write a check, or put some item up at auction, or say a few words of help and inspiration from our public platforms,” Lee continued in his speech. “Philanthropy may begin with such things but to have any impact required a tremendous amount of collective action and momentum.

“The ones who really make it happen are the volunteers, the ones on the ground delivering supplies and building schools and relationships with those who’ve been devastated, the generous folks operating the auctions and working events like this one from behind the scenes to make sure the most money is raised and then spent to maximum effect.”

In the case of APJ and the annual fundraiser that is held during the Toronto International Film Festival, the high-value auctions have raised more than $33 million to help provide access to education for the impoverished youth in Haiti, including the building of a free high school on a seven-acre campus in Port-au-Prince.

“I admire APJ’s approach,” said Lee. “You can see the money at work, and perhaps most remarkably, you can see the impact it’s had from the point of view of the very people it’s working for: in the articulate, ambitious and creative expression of the students and graduates of the Academy in Port-au-Prince themselves. That’s not just patching up some hurricane damage; that’s building a future.

“So, with them in mind, and to all of you here who have helped set the wheels of change in motion, I gratefully accept this honour.”

This year’s APJ gala, hosted by NKPR, founded and led by Natasha Koifman, who is Canadian board chair and on the U.S. board of directors, also gave out the Canadian Changemaker Award to Murdoch Mysteries lead Yannick Bisson and wife Shantelle for their philanthropic work for Childhood Cancer Canada, Sheila’s Place, Boost for Kids, and others.

On her Instagram, Koifman wrote “This year, we raised $500,000 to further education in Haiti!! We are very grateful to everyone who attended and supported. The country has just gone through another devastating, deadly earthquake and is still dealing with the aftermath of the assassination of its former President, Jovenel Moïse. 100% of the funds raised go directly to our academy in Haiti.”

Geddy Lee’s full speech:

First off, I’d like to give a shout-out not only to Natasha, Strombo [George Stroumboulopoulos], Yannick, and Shantelle, but to all the people from Artists for Peace and Justice who have worked so hard over the past twelve years to help the people of Haiti. I must also thank you, of course, for inviting me to this event. I am happy to be here—although, after a year and a half of lockdown, I’d probably be happy to be anywhere.

When I was first contacted about this honour and saw that it was happening in the middle of TIFF, I was baffled. Like, Why me? Was it my riveting cameo appearance on Chicago Fire back in 2015? Doubtit.. Then I noted that previous recipients have included that great Canadian, Norman Jewison, and that fine philanthropic couple, Harry and Bella Fonte, and I said to myself, Oh… It must be a Jewish thing. Cool.. I accept!

The concept of “Lifetime Achievement” is a daunting one for me to grasp. I mean, there are some achievements of a lifetime of which I’m very proud… a45-year marriage to my beautiful better half, Nancy Young (who is here tonight along with Kyla, one of our two incredible children) and, from a career perspective, I’ve been fortunate to have had a working relationship with two bandmates for over 45 years and miraculously, not once during that time did we ever throttled each other, and that’s an accomplishment! … but obviously, this award is about philanthropy, which I’ve always thought should be the natural behavior of humans rather than anything noteworthy—and too much has already been said about whatever charitable contributions I’ve made. I feel it’s easy for those of us who’ve been successful in life to pitch in, to write a check, or put some item up at auction, or say a few words of help and inspiration from our public platforms. Philanthropy may begin with such things but to have any impact requires a tremendous amount of collective action and momentum. The ones who really make it happen are the volunteers, the ones on the ground delivering supplies and building schools and relationships with those who’ve been devastated, the generous folks operating the auctions and working events like this one from behind the scenes to make sure the most money is raised and then spent to maximum effect.

I admire APJ’s approach. You can see the money at work, and perhaps most remarkably, you can see the impact it’s had from the point of view of the very people it’s working for: in the articulate, ambitious and creative expression of the students and graduates of the Academy in Port-au-Prince themselves. That’s not just patching up some hurricane damage; that’s building a future. So, with them in mind, and to all of you here who have helped set the wheels of change in motion, I gratefully accept this honour. Thank you.

Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.