The Madison Downtown Rotary Club honored Masood Akhtar, the founder and president of We Are Many-United Against Hate, with the 2019 Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award on Nov. 20.

Akhtar is the founder of We Are Many-United Against Hate, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of common people that seeks equal protection for all, united against hate, bigotry and racism. Akhtar also has served on Dane County’s Immigration and Refugee Task Force aimed at building trust between local law enforcement officials and the immigrant and refugee communities to reduce fear. He also serves on the Board of Friends of Wisconsin Public Television.

Akhtar thanked Mike McCabe for stepping up at a moment of great need to become We Are Many-United Against Hate’s first executive director. He also thanked his wife and two children for their 24/7 support.

“The success of our movement includes partnerships, such as positive outcome of our partnership with Baraboo High School. Their three-year plan now includes equity for the first time,” Akhtar said, accepting his award. “Glenn Bildsten is the principal of Baraboo High School who is here today as my guest. Thank you, Glenn, for being here and our strong partnership. Baraboo school has become an ambassador for other schools.”

The Rotary’s Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award was established in 1982 and identifies individuals who have, through their voluntary efforts, made a particularly outstanding contribution to the humanitarian service in the greater Madison community in the tradition so well exemplified by the life of Rabbi Swarsensky.

Rotarian Jeff Seltz nominated Akhtar for the honor, writing: “It is difficult to believe that you are not talking to Rabbi Swarsensky when you meet Masood Akhtar. The warmth, kindness, and acceptance are the same.”

Earlier this year, Akhtar received the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award presented by FBI Director Christopher Wray in Washington, D.C.  He also received a Certificate of Achievement from Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers.

“At a time when we are so quick to judge others and so eager to jump down each other’s throats, it warms my heart to see a group as influential as Downtown Rotary honor an effort to promote understanding and tolerance, celebrate differences, and work to help people work through prejudices and see our common humanity,” Akhtar said. “Thank you again… a thousand times.”