Posted on April 24, 2013 in Arab American Institute
On April 16, the Arab American Institute Foundation hosted members of Congress and the Administration, the Arab diplomatic corps, business leaders, media luminaries, academics and activists at its 15th annual Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards.
The evening opened with former Michigan Congressman David Bonior presenting the Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service to Ralph Nader. A lifelong advocate for consumer, environmental, and voter protection, Nader has published 46 books and founded more than four dozen non-profits during his career in public advocacy. “He has been the force behind the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Freedom of Information Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency,” noted Bonior. “He’s made our water cleaner, our air purer, and our workplaces safer. He’s made government and industry more accountable and he’s made American citizens arguably the best-informed consumers and voters in the world.”
In a moving presentation, New York Times editor David Hoffman presented the Anthony Shadid Award for Excellence in Journalism to CNN International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour. A colleague and friend of the late Shadid, Hoffman praised his dedication to giving voice to the people whose daily lives are forever changed by the turmoil in the Middle East, and whose stories depict the real cost of war—and the real courage and endurance of the Arab people. Hoffman recognized Amanpour for her own integrity and commitment to telling objective but human stories of the region. In her remarks, Amanpour, too, praised Shadid’s legacy, and spoke of how honored she was to receive this important inaugural award. With the tragic Boston bombings so fresh in the mind of the evening’s attendees, Amanpour encouraged responsible action by journalists and policymakers alike, noting that the repercussions of terrorism and hate crimes are born equally by all members of our global community, and that intolerance—in action or reaction—will only continue to breed hostility.
Chicago Tribune Editor Clarence Page joined us to honor the work of Children’s Defense Fund, lauding CDF as an organization that “informs our public policy, improves our public schools, provides safe environments our children to learn, to explore, and to create, and ensures that our children, our families, and our communities are always at the forefront of American policies and priorities.” The award was accepted by CDF founder and civil rights legend Marian Wright Edelman, who has spearheaded the DC-based non-profit since its creation in 1973. Under her leadership, Page said, CDF has “protected the very essence of our future.” Thanking AAIF for this award, Edelman said “I cannot be more honored than to stand for the values and the philosophy of Gibran,” and urged the audience to protect our nation from the single greatest threat to our future: “our failure to invest in healthy and educated children."
The last award of the evening was given to entertainment legend and human rights advocate Casey Kasem. Presenting the Award for Individual Achievement, syndicated radio host Bill Press recognized Kasem as “a force in state and national politics… who has always spoken up for justice on every front. He’s championed environmental awareness, racial equity, economic justice and on behalf of the homeless, the poor, the marginalized and the disabled.” Remarking on Kasem’s tremendous pride in his Lebanese heritage, Press said “he has always spoken loudly and proudly about his Arab heritage – maybe most loudly when it wasn’t popular.” Kasem’s daughter Kerri, who accepted the Award on his behalf, recalled that her father has always “put his ideals ahead of his self-interest,” a sentiment echoed by the many political and entertainment notables whose video tributes were aired at the Gala. From civil rights attorney Avery Friedman to Rev. Jesse Jackson, from Marlo Thomas and Jamie Farr to Kathy Najimy and Ryan Seacrest, friends and supporters of the media legend praised the extraordinary work that Kasem has undertaken, and the very real difference he’s made in all our lives.
“You know, we’re always impressed and honored by the caliber of our awardees,” said AAI President Jim Zogby. “But this year—at a time when our friends around the world have suffered such loss, when it seems so much easier to turn away in despair—these men and women sent a message of hope and justice. They reminded us why we work so hard to create a better future. I’m so pleased and proud that AAI was able to be the conduit for that message.”