Sammy Kassem is a hero in an unlikely place. The Bay Ridge street vendor is also the Vendy Awards' first honoree of 2012. According to a statement by the Urban Justice Center, a "non-profit organization that provides legal representation and advocacy to various marginalized groups of New Yorkers," Kassem is being honored for "his perseverance and commitment to street vendors' rights" in the face of opposition from anti-vendor businesses in his Bay Ridge community. The "Most Heroic Vendor" award, of which Kassem is this year's recipient, is regularly awarded to vendors who contribute to the City's well-being, whether it's by "spotting fires," "spotting car bombers" or standing up for vendors' rights. These vendors are often the eyes and ears of the streets. In Kassem's case, the 21-year-old Halal food vendor is being praised for standing up to those businesses which have tried everything to "push him out," according to the statement. These businesses partook in some regular, old-fashioned bullying, including nailing park benches to his regular vending spot. In the face of their aggressive actions, Kassem has consistently asserted he has as much of a right to make a living there, rather than back down. "Up against circumstances that would break most people, Sammy has triumphed," said Sean Basinski, Director of the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center. According to the Center's release: "vendors make hundreds of small contributions each day that often go unrecognized." The project aims to change that fact, one heroic vendor at a time. A number of vendors receiving awards, including Kassem, will be presented on September 15 at Governor's Island in the Vendy Awards Ceremony. -Alissa Fleck
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