Bonnie Hammer went a few steps beyond the garden-variety charitable kudos acceptance speech Tuesday night at the Anti-Defamation League's Humanitarian Award at the org's annual showbiz gala fundraiser.
NBC Universal's prexy of Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios "reined in the rhetoric" by citing, in detail, incidents from her own experience as a mother that taught her a lot about the pernicious subtleties of prejudice in kids who are raised in a progressive environment.
She noted that her brood is a blended family consisting of a daughter, Kimae, from her husband Dale Heussner's previous marriage who is part Malaysian and part Caucasian; and her son, Jesse, now 14, who shares his mother's Russian-Jewish heritage and Dale's Midwestern WASP roots.
At an extended family dinner seven years ago, Jesse declared himself to be at least "one-eighth Chinese," judging from the diversity around the table. "That line brought down the house," Hammer recalled.
A year or so later, Jesse regaled his mother and father at dinner with a joke he'd picked up on the playground, which was crudely racist and utterly intolerant of Chinese cultural differences, Hammer recalled. The jolt reminded her of the importance of being vigilant and maintaining a zero-tolerance policy against stereotyping and expressions of ethnic bias even in its most seemingly innocuous forms (i.e. no brushing it off with "oh, he's just a kid").
Hammer was saluted by the ADL for spearheading USA Network's Emmy-winning "Erase the Hate" public service campaign in the 1990s during her first tour of duty at the now top-rated cabler. More recently, she's championed USA's "Character's Unite" initiative designed to promote the importance of diversity in all aspects of life. Dule Hill and James Roday, stars of USA's drama "Psych," emceed the dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel (which also doubled as a polling place on Tuesday).
As always, the evening included a witty tribute reel, full of pics and clips of the guest of honor sporting bygone hairdos and retro fashions that weren't at the time.
(Pictured above: Bonnie Hammer and U Studios prexy Ron Meyer)
I never knew Hammer got her start at Beantown PBS affil WGBH-TV, working on kidvid series "Zoom" and the enduring "This Old House." They even got a comment from erstwhile "House" master Bob Vila (he called her "a mass of curls" who was a dynamo producer on location).
"The life, the times and the hair of Bonnie Hammer," she joked, after being introduced by Universal Studios prexy Ron Meyer (who looked no worse for wear after his early Sunday wake-up call from the fire that ravaged part of the U lot).
Hammer noted that of all the industry awards she's received, the ADL recognition "would've made my father most proud."
The org was founded in the same year, 1913, that her father emigrated to the U.S. from Russia, and the ADL's mission is to help protect the freedoms and civil liberties that allowed her father to prosper in his adopted homeland, Hammer observed.
As for Jesse, he's doing just fine. Hammer closed her remarks by reading a few lines from a book report that her ninth-grader wrote about the memoir "The Color of Water" by biracial author James McBride.
"The color that shows on his skin did not define him," Jesse wrote, with no pretense of showing it to his mother (Hammer confessed to snooping).
"Just like the people we meet reflect the experiences we endure...what defined (McBride) was the color of his character."
Kudos to Hammer for making the most of her remarks, and grateful thanks to the ADL for hosting a thoughtful event. There wasn't an ounce of fat in the presentation. I was home -- home -- by 9:25.