Posted on May 10, 2011 in Arab American Institute
On May 4th, hundreds of guests from across the country filled the Renaissance Hotel Ball Room in downtown Washington, DC for the 2011 Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards Gala, hosted by the Arab American Institute Foundation (AAIF). The black tie event was kicked off with a beautiful performance by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a project of the Barenboim-Said Foundation, followed by opening remarks by William Daley, White House Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama. Daley talked about the essential role Arab Americans play in our country, highlighted the challenging but hopeful times we have ahead of us in the Middle East, and asked the Arab American community to help the Administration as partners on the road to a better future.
Vital Voices, an organization that empowers women leaders throughout the world, was recognized and honored with an award for Institutional Excellence. The Award was presented by Vital Voices and Arab American Institute board member Samia Farouki, and accepted by Vital Voices’ President Alyse Nelson. During her acceptance speech, Nelson announced the Middle Eastern and North African Women’s Leadership Fund with a pledge to "double our efforts by training, mentoring and resourcing thousands of women throughout [the Middle East] over the next five years."
US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood presented the Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service to Governor Mitch Daniels, who is of Syrian descent. Governor Daniels joked that he was glad to have failed in persuading Secretary LaHood to run for Governor in Illinois, as we would not have such a great Secretary of Transportation otherwise. Daniels also noted that the hopes and dreams that brought many Arab Americans to this country are now alive in the Middle East as people there are determined to bring about liberty for their families and communities.
Actor and US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) Global Ambassador Jeff Fahey presented a Special Recognition Award to USCRI in celebration of its 100th anniversary. The award was accepted by the organization’s President Lavinia Limón, who urged the audience not to forget the refugees being created by the instability in the Middle East and to commit ourselves to them and their future needs.
The evening concluded with a celebration recognizing the youth of the Arab Spring movements. AAI President Jim Zogby introduced presenter Ayman Mohyeldin of Al Jazeera, whose coverage of the Egyptian revolution landed him on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of 2011. In his remarks, Mohyeldin implored the audience to support the forces of change in the Middle East. He also introduced a video message by one of the most remarkable leaders of the Egyptian revolution, Wael Ghonim. Wael noted that although those in Tahrir Square had no defined leadership, they led one of the greatest uprisings in the world. To the intense applause of the audience, the Award was accepted by Dina Amer, Sherif Makhlouf, and Jawad Nabulsi of the Egyptian revolution.