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CNN Special Reports

CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 08, 2019 - 21:00   ET



KELLY RIPA, TALK SHOW HOST: Yes, we're back. We're back with CNN Heroes and this over here is my dog Chewie, she's one part city dog, one part cat -- notice how she's giving you her tail. And a million parts that old lady smoking cigarettes and drinking in a bar all day, I can actually hear her thought bubble right now -- she's thinking, you look good, have you had work done? You going to finish that drink?

ANDERSON COOPER, COOPER: This is why Kelly and I are friends because I actually didn't know about Chewie's secret life, I actually thought I was the only one whose created a secret life for my dog. My dog's secret life she is a very sweet lady of a certain age, for reasons not entirely clear to me she wears ballerina slippers and she likes to go to bars in the afternoon and sing songs from Les Miserables.


COOPER: Yes, I don't -- I'm not sure what that says about me.

RIPA: No wonder they sniffed each other that way backstage. You know, animals can play an important and even heroic role in our lives. They're there for us in good times and in bad, and sometimes things get really bad. But when we need them the most sometimes we're separated from them.

We've seen this is disasters and in domestic violence situations -- one in four women experience violence by an intimate partner in her lifetime, and yet more than 90 percent of domestic violence shelters don't allow pets, and don't provide some placement in a nearby foster home or boarding at a local animal shelter.

COOPER: Well here to share our next hero is help -- how our next hero is helping women and their beloved pets is one of the stars of hustlers and a champion for Families Belong Together Julia Stiles (ph).

JULIA STILES: In 2005 a young woman with a lifetime of bruises and scars on her body showed up at the Shade Tree Domestic Violence Shelter in Los Vegas. She held a garbage bag filled with her clothes in one hand, and in the other the love of her life -- her cat in a carrier.

Staci Alonso listened to this woman declare that the only one that stood by her was her cat, and if she couldn't be with it then she would go back to her abuser. Staci wouldn't let that happen, and promised the woman to foster her cat.

Two years later Staci built Noah's Animal House on the Shelter's grounds. Inside there are kennels, an on-call veterinarian and cuddle rooms for belly rubs, ear scratching and quiet time to just be. So far 1,700 pets have been cared for helping women from 27 states because a pet is a part of the family, and women deserve to be with them and to be safe.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Women won't leave an abusive relationship without their pets. When they get to the point that they need to leave they start researching where to go, can I bring my pets?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was going through a very abusive relationship. The bruises, they go away but the words never do.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.

We had gotten in to an argument the night before and he wanted to put my cat out, and I said you know what it's getting dangerous too close to something else being hurt other than myself. So we travelled for four or five days on the bus. When I got to Noah's and they took my cat in, and I looked around that place and I was like, OK, we're good -- we're good.

STACI ALONSO, NOAH'S ANIMAL HOUSE: We have had clients from 21 states. We know that there's several domestic violence shelters in every state that they're passing -- that tells you the need and that tells you the power of the relationship between the woman and the pet.

When they found the courage to arrive at Noah's I think that they're preparing themselves for us to question and judge, but we don't. We just say listen, it gets easier from here on out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, mommy's here.

ALONSO: When you watch the woman come through the doors, and you see the anxiety and the stress on her face, and then they turn the corner, and then they see their pet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I missed you, come here, I love you baby girl.

ALONSO: And everything's right in the world for a little while.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is not my pet, that is my son. My abuser told me if I leave I was never going to make it, and my cat helps me with that though, he lets me know that I am worth living.

ALONSO: I love you too -- I love you too.

[21:05:00] I found my purpose and it impacts so many lives that don't feel they have a voice. I owe it to every one of them to keep going.


STILES: Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in honoring CNN hero, Staci Alonso.


ALONSO: Thank you. Thank you. This is for the courageous women who shared their stories and their pets for this honor. Arlo's (ph) mom, Sneaker's (ph) mom, Stella (ph), Dax (ph), and Milo's (ph) mom, and for the many others whose name I cannot say, you are our heroes.

Since the first airing of our story on CNN, the percent of out of state clients arriving at Noah's has tripled. We can't judge victims on why don't they just leave when we can't remove the barrier that's preventing them from doing just that.

We can't ask women to choose between leaving and leaving their pets behind to be abused. And most of all, we can't ask them to do what we know we would not. Thank you CNN for this honor and awareness that will bring more victims and their pets to our door.


RIPA: We'd like to take another moment to recognize someone who committed an incredible act of generosity.

COOPER: In may, graduation students at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia received a life changing surprise from their commencement speaker, businessman, and philanthropist; Robert F. Smith.

He knew that one of the greatest challenges facing young people today is student debt with 44 million people borrowing more than $1.5 trillion to fund their college educations.

RIPA: So Smith decided to do more than just deliver words of encouragement. He made an announcement that would reshape their futures.


ROBERT F. SMITH, PHILANTHROPIST.: We're going to put a little fuel in your bus. This is my class, 2019. My family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.

COOPER: It was a game changing pledge to lift the often crushing weight of student for the entire class of 2019.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For him to do this is -- is incredible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are going to be graduating debt free.

COOPER: In return for his $34 million gift, Smith only asked for one thing, pay it forward.

SMITH: And let's make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward. And we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds. Congratulations.



COOPER: Ladies and gentleman, the CO of Vista Equity Partners, Robert F. Smith.


SMITH: Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you.

COOPER: First of all, you've -- you've ruined commencement speeches of everybody else.

SMITH: Hopefully -- hopefully inspired more.

COOPER: Inspired more. When did you decide to -- that you were going to do this?

SMITH: You know as we see here tonight and through this whole program, there's nothing more beautiful a liberated human spirit. And I grew up in a community and a family in Denver, Colorado where it was focused on how do you bring more to your community.

And as I thought about giving this commencement address, the idea was what is it that these 400 young men and their families need and how can I liberate their spirit.

And so I thought about my eight or nine generations in this country and thought, you know what, this burden of student debt is heavy on most people. And it's disproportionately heavy on these young African American men. They have more debt, they typically have less opportunity over their lifetimes to earn capital. And I thought this was a good way to liberate 400 families and give them a chance to really contribute back to -- to United States.

RIPA: What a -- what a great start you have given them.

COOPER: Yes. Well, thank you so much.

RIPA: Thank you so much.


SMITH: Thank you.

COOPER: We'll be right back.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ANNOUNCER: CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute is proudly sponsored by Novartis.


COOPER: Welcome back to CNN Heroes. Grief and loss is something that we don't talk about very often. It makes people uncomfortable and often we don't know what to say. Nearly five million children will experience the loss of a parent or sibling by the time they reach the age of 18. For kids, that loss can be especially devastating, and it's made worse by our silence.

My dad, Wyatt Cooper, died when I was 10 and for a long time I found it difficult to even speak about him, to even say his name. Too often we go through grief alone, but Mary Robinson is trying to change that, especially for kids. When Mary was 14, her father died from cancer, and Mary struggled with that grief. She stopped doing the things she'd once loved. Her grades suffered. The weight of her loss, the pain of it, it followed her into her 20s.

And Mary as she grew up, she didn't want another child to wander through life like that, and she started Imagine, a center for coping and loss in Mountainside, New Jersey. It's a place where the language of loss is spoken and where the language of loss is understood. It's a place where kids and their parents can speak their loved ones' names, where they don't have to pretend that everything is OK. They can learn to cope and they can learn skills that will help them, and they can see that they are not alone in their pain. None of us has to be alone in our pain.


MARY ROBINSON, IMAGINE FOUNDER: Time does not heal all wounds. Time helps, but it's what you do with that time. Imagine exists to give children a place to mourn their loss and tell their story.

BELLA (ph): My name is Bella (ph), and my dad died.

ROBINSON: Here at our center, every single person has had somebody who died.

JAIDEN (ph): My name is Jaiden (ph), and my mom died.

ROBINSON: And that's incredibly powerful.


After my dad died I felt like I was walking almost like with a wall around me. I felt so different. My grades went down, I was skipping school. But I wasn't a bad kid, I was a sad kid. I was grieving.

What's your favorite memory of him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When we went to the father-daughter dance.

ROBINSON: We help them share memories and develop some cooping tools. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my memory box. I wrote me (ph) and my dad and my mom. And then right here it says the box of joy. When I'm alone sometimes I think about my mom, how comforting it was to be around her.

ROBINSON: Journaling is a wonderful way for kids to express themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just wanted to say hi and just see if you were OK. Love you, mom. P.S. good night.

ROBINSON: As they get older they miss their parents in a-whole-nother way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wonder why she died when I was five. What would I be doing if she was alive. I wonder what she would be doing if she was alive.

ROBINSON: Here at Imagine (ph), you talk about the elephant in the room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What scares me, probably losing my dad because I'll not have any parents at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once it happens you start thinking about like I can lose everyone important in your life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you hear other people's stories it kind of brings comfort to know you're not alone.

ROBINSON: My goal is to make sure other kids don't lose years of their life to unresolved grief.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where did you put in.

ROBINSON: When I see all the families and their smiles, I feel just such a sense of joy that this exist for them. I think my dad would be really glad that I made something good come out of the pain of losing him. So I think he's really proud.



COOPER: Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in honoring CNN hero, Mary Robinson.


ROBINSON: I believe the world is driven by unresolved grief. Walk into any 12 step meeting, any therapist office, any psychiatric unit in any hospital or any prison and you'll hear nothing but stories of grief and loss. My brother and I lost years of our lives after the death of our dad 46 years ago. Imagine's commitment is to make sure grieving children and teens grow up emotionally healthy and able to lead meaningful and productive lives. Please helps us insure that no child ever has to grieve alone. Thank you.


RIPA: It's time to meet another one of young wonders whose work is so powerful it's going to wreck all of our faces. To share his story, please join me in welcoming a champion of hope 192, a nonprofit in Central Florida devoted to helping homeless children and their families and the star of the upcoming film, "The Turning." Please welcome Brooklynn Prince.


BROOKLYNN PRINCE, ACTRESS: OK. Listen up, life isn't really complicated. You know what to do. Be kind, love your family and friends, and if someone is having a hard time help them out. This is what Jahkil Jackson has been doing since he was five.

He went out with his aunt and his cousin to help those in need in the streets of Chicago and it turned him inside out. So at eight, he made the project I Am and he has given thousands of bags containing soap, toothbrushes, and other items.

He may be young but he sure gets life. And he's a role model for us all. Thank you.


JAHKIL JACKSON, CNN HERO: I am in seventh grade. I go home and do homework. Basketball, tap dance.

UNKNOWN: Jahkil is a typical 12 year old. He just happens to have an organization that he runs.


JACKSON: I do see a lot of homeless people around Chicago. It did make me sad to see how people were living out on the streets, I really wanted to help. So we thought of different things that can help those in need on a daily basis. We decided to call them blessing bags.

Here you go. You're welcome.

We have these packing parties. All of our friends and family and volunteers come out to help.

Make sure you get two of these. Everything else is one. You grab this one. You grab this one.

Then we go on assembly line and we keep going and going and going.

UNKNOWN: It really upsets him to see people on the street. It just really does something to his soul.

UNKNOWN: It is important to me to get to hand out the bags personally. When I see the smile on their faces, it gives me a smile on my face to know that I'm helping others.


UNKNOWN: You're welcome.

UNKNOWN: Thank you young man, thank you young man.

UNKNOWN: I do also go to shelters to distribute the bags.

You're welcome. God bless. Have a nice day.

UNKNOWN: You have a heart of gold. Continue what you're doing and don't stop.

UNKNOWN: I think that me giving them blessing bags gives them hope and tells them that there are people out there that actually care. There are a lot more homeless people that I need to help. I do have a lot of work to do.



RIPA: Wow. How about that?


You know, Jakeel (ph), you started this when you were eight years old and you donated 30,000 blessing bags. And I heard that you recently caught the eye of President Obama. What happened?

UNKNOWN: So, it's kind of a funny story. My mom woke me up one morning when I was sleeping very well and I didn't want to listen to anything she had to say. But she woke me up to stay President Obama was tweeting about me. I didn't think it was that much big of a deal until later in the day when a lot of people started coming to me and telling me congratulations, oh, my God, like a bunch of attention. So, that's when I got more excited about it. And the even cooler part is that a few months later, he requested to meet me. So, yeah.

RIPA: It's a really big deal. You're a really big deal.

UNKNOWN: Thank you.


RIPA: Anderson says so too, Right Anderson? A really big deal.

UNKNOWN: Thank you.

RIPA: If you want to learn more about Jakeel (ph) and all of our young wonders, you can go to and check out their work. (APPLAUSE)

COOPER: We want to -- we want to take this moment to acknowledge another inspiring young person who's with us tonight. His name is Nathan Bain. He's a student at Steven F. Austin University. He plays basketball for their team, the Lumberjacks. They defeated top ranked Duke after Nathan made a last second drive. That's him right there, take a look at this drive and then this layup right at the buzzer. In a post-game interview, near tears, he told the world about himself and his family. They live in the Bahamas and their home was destroyed by hurricane Dorian.

The school set up a gofundme account to try to help his family, everything was lost for them. Before that game, only a few people had donated to the gofundme page, after the game, the account had climbed to nearly $150,000. And it's a reminder of all those in the Bahamas who are still suffering from the devastating losses they experienced and still need help. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Nathan Bain.


ANNOUNCER: Coming up next, Alfre Woodard and later storm Reid and a special performance by Andy Grammar.



RIPA: Welcome back to CNN Heroes. Our next hero does her life- changing work in Mekelle, Ethiopia. In that country and too many others, menstruation is considered a taboo. Seventy-five percent of women and girls don't have access to affordable sanitary product. The United States has their problem as well, and too many young girls miss school because they are ashamed of something that is normal and natural.

COOPER: To tell us her empowering story is one of the stars of CW's "The Arrow," and Stephen King's "The Sand," and a Girl Up Ambassador, please welcome Katherine McNamara.

KATHERINE MCNAMARA, ACTRESS: Dignity is something you feel when you walk with your head held high, and to know that experience is to want others to experience it too. Freweini Mebrahtu understands this. In 29183, she came to the United States to study as an engineer. While walking the aisles of a drugstore, she was in awe of display after display of sanitary products she never had growing up. As she looked at the options we have here in America, she wondered what about the choices for the girls back home.

She took the idea to make reusable sanitary products for women and girls and built a factory to fulfill her mission. With her partners, Dignity Period at Mekelle University, the under wear and pads are given freely. They are made for women, by women who are paid well, given free daycare, and support. This is the power of dignity at work, for there's no shame in what our bodies do. And today, 800,000 women and girls now walk towards their futures with their heads held high and their eyes focused where they should be, on the prize.


UNKNOWN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I was constantly terrified. I used to miss school when it would come. Missing one day means I miss six subjects. I can't make it out.


FREWEINI MEBRAHTU, ETHIOPIAN CHEMICAL ENGINEER (voice over): In Ethiopia, most women and girls do not have access to sanitary pads. That's how I grew up.

One time, I had an accident in class and I was so scared and ashamed. Even today, I remember how I felt.

I designed a reusable sanitary pads to help these women and girls to go on with their lives.

I named my factory after my daughter because I want to help every daughter go to school without worry.

Our pads are environmental friendly, cost-effective and they last up to two years.

We are also attacking the cultural baggage around menstruation.

MEBRAHTU (on camera): We are at the high school. We're going to be presenting for about a thousand students.

MEBRAHTU (through translator): A period is a gift from nature, not something to be ashamed of.

MEBRAHTU (voice over): By teaching not only just girls, boys, we're really transforming the taboo. Then the school distributes the sanitary kits to the girls.

For under $5.00, we can change a girl's life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I am learning happily along with the boys at school. I'm learning equal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I'm really happy because our children are getting the help that we, as a women, didn't get.

MEBRAHTU (voice over) Giving pads to these girls means giving them freedom so that they can achieve whatever they want to achieve.

There is no way that I could have done anything else in my life about this. All I want is all girls to have dignity. Period.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ladies and gentlemen, CNN Hero, Freweini Mebrahtu.


MEBRAHTU: Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this recognition. There is an African proverb, "Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable." I stand here alone, but not alone. Dignity, Period, an NGO, an American NGO, Makhanlal University, the women in our factory, our field workers, and the girls and the women who receive the Mariam Seba pads and so enthusiastically support the work.

These people are all parts of my bundle. I ask you to join our cause, in whatever capacity you can, reach out and help you sisters, wherever you are. Together, we can make this issue a thing of the past. Thank you for my daughter, my husband; together, we are unbreakable. Thank you, CNN.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world with more than two million people in prisons and jails and when many complete their sentences and return to their communities, the system fails them as well. There's little to no assistance to help them reenter, get proper IDs and stable housing, employment and other basic needs.

KELLY RIPA, AMERICAN ACTRESS: Our next hero survived the unimaginable and is now helping to change this broken system. Here to tell us his story is the Emmy Award winning and Academy Award nominated actress from the new film "Clemency" and a proud supporter of the Children's Defense Fund, Alfre Woodard.


ALFRE WOODARD, AMERICAN ACTRESS: It happens too often. An innocent person is arrested, convicted and sent to prison for years. In America, it happens mostly to African-Americans, and it happened to Richard Miles.

At 19, his future was his for making. He loved engineering and was headed to Technical College in Texas. He had a job, a loving family.

[21:35:09 ]

WOODARD: But one night, he walked home after visiting a friend and stopped to use a payphone. Then in a flash, he sat handcuffed in the back of a police car. Someone had murdered a man and shot another at a nearby gas station. But it wasn't Richard.

Witnesses said the shooter was taller, darker, and police had confirmed Richard's alibi. But still, he was sentenced to 60 years. Seventeen years later -- 17 years later -- revised witness testimony, unreleased police reports and new forensic results led to Richard's full exoneration.

Then he did something extraordinary. Instead of using his compensation money to help only himself, he started a program in Dallas called Miles of Freedom to help others rebuild their lives once they leave prison.

Regardless of innocence or guilt, he wants everyone to make it and stay on this side of the wall and thrive.


RICHARD MILES, FOUNDER, MILES OF FREEDOM (voice over): The foundation of our family was faith. I went to church every day of my life. I've been accepted at a Technical College.

MILES (on camera): But May 15, 1994 is the day that Richard Ray Miles, Jr. died.

MILES (voice over): All of these calls came from everywhere, get on the ground, get on the ground. I became a number: 728716. My mom would always tell me, don't look at the bars. Look at the sky. I could change my perception within the place of incarceration.

I had my full exoneration 17 years after my wrongful incarceration. I said, if I ever get out, I am going to help people.

I have some these points of despair for people coming home from prison. They are various: Housing, transportation, jobs. It's like a maze. People get out and they come right back in.

It made me look at the system.

MILES (on camera): How can we make it better?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like learning how to walk all over again. I'm educated, but there's not a tolerance for my situation.

MILES: Consider us as that support system. We're not going to go get it for you but we're going to get it with you.

MILES (voice over): We have a transitional employment service, until we're able to get them permanent employment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They asked me if I needed clothes. They taught me how to make an e-mail, build a resume, and just gave me inspiration to keep moving forward.

MILES: Reentry is an everyday process.

MILES (voice over): We provide confidence. You can see the transformation in them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fourteen months ago, I was wearing white, and now, I work for one of the top manufacturers in Dallas. Here, I'm proud of you. You're doing a good job. Here's a raise. It's uplifting.

MILES (voice over): We also take family members to area prisons. It's about an hour and a half from Dallas. To see these families hug their husbands, their brothers, their cousins.

MILES (on camera): It's like one of the best things that this organization does.

MILES: You can reveal and continually strive to be that person that you know you are supposed to be.

MILES (voice over): At the age of 19, all I had was 60 years in a box.

MILES (on camera): And God has given me so much.

MILES: That's what we want to do.

MILES (voice over): The people in prison really, really need to know they are coming home if possible. Being successful is possible.


WOODARD: Ladies and gentlemen, CNN Hero, Richard Miles.


MILES: Thank you. I am only one voice, but tonight, I want to be a megaphone for the thousands of men and women fighting for justice after a wrongful conviction and for the families and communities, rebuilding their lives with loved ones after incarceration.

Tonight, my one voice has three missions: To exclaim the voice of the voiceless, to encourage the distressed.


MILES: And to and to engage the willing. Tonight, I am asking you to join the journey of Miles of Freedom as we continue to bridge the gap from prison to promise. Thank you, CNN. I thank all of you. I thank my family, my wife and my two beautiful daughters and thank God for covering me on this journey.


ANNOUNCER: Next, one of our heroes will make you fall in love with donkeys.

And later, who will be your choice for CNN Hero of the Year?


COOPER: And we are back with CNN Heroes. It is time to meet our final young wonder.

RIPA: Here to present her story is a co-founder of Amazing which works to empower young girls and the star of HBO's "Euphoria" and Universal's, "The Invisible Man," Storm Reid.

STORM REID, AMERICAN ACTRESS: Look, sometimes the best way to change the world is look at your brother. Really. That's what Jemima Browning did with her brother who was born with Down syndrome.

She was a star swimmer in North Yorkshire England. She looked around the pool and noticed that her brother didn't have the same opportunity to be on a team. So, she created Tadcaster Stingrays so people like him, young people, could be a part of a team just like hers.

All Jemima had to do to make this world a better place was to do what she does every single day, which is hanging out with her brother, her best friend, Will.



JEMIMA BROWNING, ORGANIZER, TADCASTER STINGRAYS (voice over): Will is my absolute best friend in the world. He has Down syndrome. Will has always been Will. I've never seen him any different.

Swimming with something our whole family got involved with and we all achieved in our own ways.

BROWNING (on camera): It hit really, really hard that Will wasn't afforded the same opportunities that my sister and I were.

I decided that if the world wasn't going to create opportunities for people like my brother, then I was the one to do something.

Tadcaster Stingrays is a swim squad for young people with learning and physical disabilities.

The sessions themselves just create a really safe environment where they can just be themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freya has always wanted to be part of activity groups, she could see that she wasn't being included. And so she was spending more time in her bedroom.

When I see Freya arrive at Stingrays, it makes your heart burst. I don't know what Freya's life would have been like if she hadn't found Stingrays.

BROWNING (on camera): I've seen an incredible amount of changes in all of my swimmers. They've all become such a close knit group. Even if they're competing against each other, they'll still support each other.

They can really set an example for what the rest of the world should be doing.

They are valuable. They can absolutely show other people that just because you have a disability doesn't mean you can't do exactly the same as everybody else.


[APPLAUSE] RIPA: Fabulous. You're just fabulous. Now, Jemima, you and Will are

going to be leading the Special Olympics in Great Britain, youth leaders. Tell us about that.

BROWNING: So my brother and I travel across the world, lots of different forums. He does lots of speeches, and it's all about making sure that the future is inclusive and that we create a unified generation.

RIPA: Well, you are magnificent, and we're so honored to have you here. Thank you so much.

BROWNING: Thank you, guys, so much. Thank you.

RIPA: Thank you.

COOPER: Thank you so much.


COOPER: We -- earlier tonight, we promised some information about donkeys and yes, now it is time.

RIPA: Are you telling me it's donkey time?

COOPER: Yes, it's donkey time. It is. I know.

RIPA: It's donkey time.

COOPER: I know you've all been waiting for it. People think -- donkeys are awesome. People think they're stupid. People think they're stubborn and dangerous -- like me -- they're not.

They helped build this country. They helped with the railroads. They carried goods in the West.

Today, thousands and thousands of donkeys are neglected and abused, and they're dangerously overpopulated in the wild.

RIPA: And to tell us about our final hero's work is the star of the CBS new show, "Tommy" and proud supporter of INARA which provides life-altering medical care to children in conflict areas, Thomas Sadoski.


THOMAS SADOSKI, AMERICAN ACTOR: Good evening. So, the question I know everyone wants to know is, how do you go from being a successful contractor and electrician in Los Angeles to running the largest donkey rescue in the world?

Now, Mark Meyers did it the old-fashioned way. He did it one donkey at a time.

[LAUGHTER] SADOSKI: In 1999, he and his wife, Amy, they had some land and they

wanted to find a companion for their dog. They met and they fell in love with a donkey named Izzy. She stole their hearts. And so they became experts in donkeys. They began rescuing many others.

When the number of rescues hit 25, they packed things up and they founded the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue in Texas.

Mark goes out, he rescues donkeys everywhere. He wrangles wild burros and he adopts them to loving homes. To date, 13,000 have come under his care and they have been given a place to roam, to chomp on hay and to get their ears scratched in just the right place.

This is Mark's only job now: Caring for these magnificent and misunderstood creatures so that they can heehaw all they want in the Texas rising sun.



MARK MEYERS, FOUNDER, PEACEFUL VALLEY DONKEY RESCUE (voice over): Donkeys speak to my soul.

MEYERS: Yes, that lip would come right loose, won't it?

MEYERS (voice over): Donkeys are like dogs, they're loyal, protective. They're amazing animals that nobody gets.

MEYERS (on camera): I understand what you're thinking.

MEYERS (voice over): Of all the animals, they're the most zen. They're just in the moment.

They have literally built this country on their backs, and then they get left behind.

MEYERS: Poor guy. He has got a mouthful of bad teeth. He is in several feet of filth.

MEYERS (voice over): Domestic donkeys are faced with abuse, neglect and abandonment. All really stemming from the fact that people think they have so little value that they're not worth keeping, let's get rid of it.

We have racked up over 13,000 donkeys rescued. We are constantly working, if it's hoof trimming time, we do that. Every year, every donkey gets a dental check.

MEYERS: Long in the tooth.

MEYERS (voice over): And then we of course have the training, which is the most important part.

MEYERS: Up a little, up a little. Good job. MEYERS (voice over): We can't just send a wild donkey into somebody's

home and think it's all going to work out in the end, so we have to have the trainers.

MEYERS: Lita is going to brush the entire body.

MEYERS (on camera): We quite literally didn't know what the hell we were doing and we let the donkeys teach us, and apparently that's pretty good plan.

Friendly donkey turns his butt to you. He is looking for a butt scratch.

MEYERS (voice over): This job is hard. I've pretty much broken most of my bones. I have been knocked unconscious. Emotionally, it is the harder part.

I'm feeling the love.

There's so many donkeys in so many places that needs so much help. The vision that I hold was to improve the plight of the American donkey.

There's nothing cuter than a baby donkey.

We're saving them. We're improving their lives that at the end of the day, makes up for some of the atrocities.

This is cheap therapy.

I know they have value. I want to see every donkey find this happy place. This peaceful place.



SADOSKI: Ladies and gentlemen, this is my family's donkey, Gus. We rescued him and we love him.


SADOSKI: So please join this donkey lover in honoring CNN Hero, Mark Meyers. Mark.

MEYERS: I thank all of you. When it comes to our shared history, we can say for certain that at least a piece of the journey has been upon a donkey's back. They've carried humans for centuries. It's time for us to carry them.

Help us right the wrongs of the global systemic abuse and neglect of these amazing creatures. Help us give back to those who have given us so much.

We have the opportunity to save an entire species and with your help, I know we will. Thank you all very much. [APPLAUSE]

RIPA: We just want to adopt a donkey backstage.

COOPER: I know.

RIPA: They're so cute. Now, do not go away. We have more to come.

COOPER: Coming up next, powerful performance by Andy Grammer and the kids from Staten Island's PS 22 celebrating our heroes.

RIPA: And the moment you've all been waiting for, we will announce our 2019 CNN Hero of the Year. Somebody is about to get $100,000.00. Stick around.

COOPER: Be right back.





COOPER: We are moments away from announcing your choice of 2019 CNN Hero of the Year, but first our final guest. He is here with song about perseverance and love.

RIPA: Please join me in welcoming, proud supporter of the Tahirih Justice Center, which works to end violence against women and girls. Multi-platinum recording artists Andy Grammer performing his hit song, "Don't Give Up On Me," joined by the chorus from PS 22 in Staten Island. Directed by Gregg Breinberg.

ANDY GRAMMER AND PS 22 STATE ISLAND CHORUS: I will fight. I will fight for you. I always do until my heart is black and blue.

And I will stay. I will stay with you. We'll make it to the other side like lovers do.

I'll reach my hands out in the dark and wait for yours to interlock. I'll wait for you. I'll wait for you.

Because I'm not giving up, I'm not giving up, giving up, no, not yet. Even when I'm down to my last breath. Even when they say there's nothing left. So don't give up on ...

I'm not giving up. I'm not giving up, giving up, no, not me. Even when nobody else believes. I'm not going down that easily. So don't give up on me.

And I will hold, I'll hold onto you.