Champions for Change Returns for a Seventh Year Featuring 12 CNN Stars
Week-long Special Programming Begins Sunday, September 17
Primetime Special Event Hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta Airs Saturday, September 23 at 8pm ET
Beginning Sunday, September 17, twelve CNN anchors and correspondents will spotlight the inspiring stories of changemakers with whom they share a personal connection in special Champions for Change programming for the seventh year running. CNN’s Champions For Change spotlights ordinary people breaking new ground and embodying the fullest human potential.
On Saturday, September 23 at 8pm ET, Dr. Sanjay Gupta will host an hour-long special showcasing all twelve community champions.
This year’s Champions for Change include:
Julie Castle | Best Friends Animal Society
After a stint covering presidential politics, Anchor and Chief Domestic Correspondent Jim Acosta found a new best friend, a rescue beagle-mix he named Duke. Along the way, Acosta also met his champion. Julie Castle and the no-kill Best Friends Animal Society are determined to revolutionize the way shelter animals are treated and adopted. The organization runs innovative facilities and a sprawling sanctuary to optimize the welfare and adoption of animals needing homes.
Zahra Joya | Rukhshana Media
Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour reported with grave concern as the Taliban seized back control of Afghanistan in 2021. Her champion Zahra Joya runs Rukhshana Media, an Afghan news outlet centering on the experiences of women. Now, as the Taliban further restricts the rights and freedoms of women in Afghanistan, Rukhshana Media’s mission has become even more critical and even more dangerous. Joya fled the country days after the Talibans’ return to power and runs the organization’s news operation from London. Joya and Amanpour are both deeply committed to journalism, highlighting the stories and resilience of Afghans and the importance of empowering women.
Alex Acosta | Soul Food Cypher
As a journalist, Anchor Victor Blackwell firmly believes words have power. His champion Alex Acosta runs Soul Food Cypher, a program helping people of all ages raise their voices, their confidence, and their competence through the positive power of freestyle rap. In informal gatherings known as “cyphers,” Acosta taps rap’s requisite wit and creativity, providing guidance and a safe space for participants to stretch their minds and artistry in an innovative, communal way.
Anchor Erin Burnett profiles her son’s karate master Shuseki Shihan Mel Ramsey, who pivoted during the Covid-19 pandemic to be a rock for his karate students. As the pandemic spread loneliness and anxiety, this humble everyman showed a superpower: strength, a resilience and leadership quietly demonstrated by thousands of coaches and teachers across the country.
Sherman Williams | Palmer Williams Group
Kaitlan Collins is a fervent University of Alabama football fan. Her champion, Sherman Williams, went from being a national champion with the Crimson Tide, to a Super Bowl champion with the Dallas Cowboys, to spending nearly 15 years in federal prison. After he was released, Williams sought to change not only his life but life for those around him. He wanted kids who grew up like he did to have the tools he didn’t, believing they are critical to preparing for adulthood. Sherman Williams co-founded the Palmer Williams Group to mentor disadvantaged youth and help them avoid the mistakes that led to his downfall from record-breaking running back to convicted felon. Through sports camps and educational courses, all at no cost, Williams estimates he’s helped thousands of children, and says the Palmer Williams group — not his diamond-studded championship rings — is his greatest achievement.
Sandy and Lonnie Phillips | Survivors Empowered
After Jessica Ghawi was killed in a mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado in 2012, her parents Sandy and Lonnie Phillips turned their agonizing pain into purpose. They founded Survivors Empowered to help the families of those killed in mass shootings navigate the aftermath of what have become all too common tragedies. Anchor Anderson Cooper has been following their work for years, and selected them for this year’s Champions For Change.
Laura Bray | Angels for Change
Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has seen how complexities in the pharmaceutical market can hinder distribution of essential drugs; so has his champion. Drug shortages are at the highest levels in a decade. After supply shortfalls blocked life-sustaining leukemia medications from Laura Bray’s daughter, the determined mom established a network called Angels for Change with the goal of ending drug shortages.
As a former scholar-athlete for Ohio State University baseball team, Anchor Phil Mattingly knows the pressures and perks of college sports at the highest level. Mattingly’s champion Harry Miller hung up his cleats at the peak of an OSU football career to deal with suicidal thoughts and started a movement fighting the mental health stigma. With support from his teammates and coaches, Miller continues to serve as a role model and advocate for mental welfare with the motto, “Don’t make it weird.”
Anchor Boris Sanchez grew up hearing stories about his grandfather, a political dissident imprisoned in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. His champion Muriel Saenz fled Nicaragua at 14 when the government there sought to kill her family. Four decades later, Saenz has helped more than a thousand Nicaraguans fearing for their lives pursue political asylum and resettle in the United States. From navigating the immigration bureaucracy to finding employment, Saenz’s help earned her the nickname “Mama Muriel.”
Sophia Chang | Unlock Her Potential
Anchor and Senior National and International Correspondent Sara Sidner keeps her persistent fear of failure private. But it’s always there, threatening to undermine her passion and potential. Sidner’s champion inspired her to push back. Sophia Chang tapped into her own eclectic and gutsy life journey to create Unlock Her Potential, a mentorship program for women of color. The organization mentors women ranging in age from 18 to in their 70s. But Chang’s bold, unapologetic outlook particularly strikes a chord with fellow BIPOC women navigating life at middle age.
Shana Moses | Amazing Grace Chorus
Anchor and Correspondent Amara Walker’s champion Shana Moses leads the Amazing Grace Chorus, a dementia-friendly choir of elders and their caregivers. In song, the participants reconnect with their deepest identities, cutting through the fog of dementia if only for a moment. It’s a mission that resonates deeply with Walker, whose mother has a love and passion for singing and piano despite her own battle with advanced dementia.
Jesse Billauer | Life Rolls On
Former NFLer and CNN Sports Anchor and Correspondent Coy Wire knows the thrill of competition and the drive to win. Wire’s champion shares that athletic mindset despite an unthinkable setback. Jesse Billauer was a world-class junior surfer weeks away from a professional debut when a brutal wipeout rendered him quadriplegic. Now a champion adaptive surfer, Billauer and his Life Rolls On Foundation inspire people living with various disabilities through surfing, fishing and skating clinics nationwide.
The Champions for Change hour-long special will stream live for pay TV subscribers via CNN.com, CNN connected TV and mobile apps on Saturday, September 23. The special will be available on demand beginning Sunday, September 24 to pay TV subscribers via CNN.com, CNN connected TV and mobile apps, and Cable Operator Platforms.
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