NBA great Charles Barkley, U.S. Congressman John Lewis join distinguished list of International Quality of Life Award honorees

Published: December 08, 2015
Updated: December 11, 2015
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Basketball legend Charles Barkley is well-known for his candor on any issue, but to be honored alongside Civil Rights icon John Lewis made him nearly speechless.

"Under no circumstances will I ever compare myself with him," said Barkley. "There is only one thing I can say to him: Thank you."

Barkley and Lewis, a U.S. Congressman for Georgia's Fifth District, were recognized Dec. 7 at the 22nd annual International Quality of Life Awards at the United Nations in New York City.

Auburn University's College of Human Sciences launched the IQLA program in 1994 as a way to recognize people and partnerships that have made significant and lasting contributions to individual, family and community well-being locally and around the world.

Lewis, who has been called "one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced," said being honored by Auburn as this year's IQLA Laureate "makes me feel more than lucky."

"In my life I've worked with Martin Luther King Jr. I've met every president since [John F.] Kennedy. I've met Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop [Desmond] Tutu," he said. "I feel blessed. And now I'm here at the United Nations and it's a very big deal."

In introducing Lewis, Elizabeth Huntley, an Auburn University alumna and member of the university's Board of Trustees, talked about the impact he has had on history and on her.

When Lewis was in his early 20s, she said he wasn't like most college students. He was willing to lay down his life every day "for people like me" and others, "to better the world we all live in."

She recalled reading Lewis' biography when she was in junior high and how it made her cry, how it changed her.

"The story that impacted me the most was when he was so badly beaten on Bloody Sunday," Huntley explained. "His skull was so hurt and he was about to be taken to the hospital, but he stopped in front of the cameras first and entreated President Johnson to do something."

Lewis, who grew up on a shareholder farm outside of Troy, Alabama, said he was 16 years old when he was denied a library card at the Troy Public Library. That's when, he said, "I learned how important it is to stand up and make a noise."

He thanked Barkley for standing up and making a noise, "for being loud and strong."

Barkley, a native of Leeds, Alabama, was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award, a special honor given by the College of Human Sciences for distinguished individuals who have made outstanding contributions to Auburn University, the state of Alabama and beyond.

The legendary athlete known as "the Round Mound of Rebound" from his playing days at Auburn continues to support the university. His gift established the Charles W. Barkley Endowed Professorship, which is designed to support underrepresented minority professors with superior credentials in teaching, research and service in their disciplines and a commitment to promoting diversity. Two professors hold the title every five years.

Barkley had a stellar professional career and now serves as an NBA analyst for the TNT television network. Putting his natural bravado aside, Barkley cried as he thanked his mother, Charcey Glenn, who passed away in June.

"I'm just a kid from a small town in Alabama, raised by a single mom," he said. "I never thought I'd be standing at the UN. I've had an amazing life and I want to thank my Auburn and my Turner (Broadcasting) families."

Lewis offered these closing remarks, "To the young people, I say never give up. Never give in. We can save our planet. We can make it a little cleaner, a little greener and more peaceful for the generation yet unborn."