Posted by Maha Elsamahi on March 13, 2017 in Blog
For the past 19 years, the Arab American Institute Foundation has hosted the Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards every spring to recognize the cultural, political, and civic achievements of the Arab American Community. Since its inception, AAIF has honored individuals and institutions who represent the very best of the arts, sciences, politics, and business. Named in honor of the great poet who hailed from Lebanon, the gala seeks to pay tribute to Gibran’s legacy of love, tolerance, and generosity by honoring those in our community and beyond who embody these values.
AAIF has consistently sought to recognize the giants of our time, from the founder of the Polish solidarity movement Lech Walesa to Grammy award-winning artist Sting. Among our most memorable nominees is the late, great Muhammad Ali whom we recognized in 2004. Although the effects of Parkinson’s were beginning to show and speaking had become increasingly difficult for him, his audience was enraptured that evening. AAI’s founder and President Dr. James Zogby introduced the athlete and activist by recounting his first encounter with Ali. It was 1970 and Dr. Zogby was in the early days of his doctoral program. Having just walked out of his local grocery store, he saw a tan Rolls Royce drive up and a man who looked like Ali exit and walk into a clothing store called Ducky’s Dashery. Seeing his opportunity, Zogby followed him into the store and yelled out, “Champ, is that you?” Without missing a beat, Ali replied, “Yeah, come on back.” Over the next half hour, they discussed Ali’s latest fight, the war in Vietnam, and Zogby’s PhD in Islamic Studies.
As Zogby related that story, Ali sat stunned in the audience and from his table said, “That was you?” Ali joined Zogby onstage, embraced him, and spent 15 minutes regaling attendees with similar stories of his interactions with the public—underscoring his genuine love for people. Ali’s family later remarked that it was the most he had spoken in years and that Zogby’s introduction had sparked something within him, allowing for the great showman to take to the stage once more.
Now, more than ever, it is important to remember the essence of Gibran’s message—one of acceptance and love of one another. Gibran’s very presence in this country at the turn of the century is an especially salient reminder that the Arab American community has long been embedded and integral to the fabric of American society. We hope that this year’s awards will not only be an opportunity to celebrate our awardees’ tremendous achievements, but a chance to gather and reflect on these values that Gibran preached and embodied.
It is especially important that we have an opportunity to honor those in our community who are leading the charge of progress and innovation. Arab Americans frequently find themselves talked about in the context of security and policy, eliminating a long history of political, artistic, and entrepreneurial contributions. We hope the awards will give the coming generation of Arab Americans a venue in which they can see themselves reflected when they may sometimes only see the ugliest projections. In times like these, where some of the youngest members of our community may doubt or question their place in their communities, Kahlil Gibran’s Message to Young Americans of Syrian Origin rings especially true.
I believe in you, and I believe in your destiny.
I believe that you are contributors to this new civilization.
I believe that you have inherited from your forefathers an ancient dream, a song, a prophecy, which you can proudly lay as a gift of gratitude upon the lap of America.
For tickets to this year's Gibran Gala, click here.