2009 Kahlil Gibran Gala
On Thursday, April 23rd, 2009, more than 700 guests from across the U.S. and the globe descended on Washington, D.C. for the 11th annual Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards gala hosted by the Arab American Institute Foundation (AAIF). The black tie affair began with opening remarks from Assistant to the President Valerie Jarrett. The awards ceremony honors individuals and organizations that toil – often unnoticed – to address some of the world’s most pressing humanitarian problems. This year’s program was launched by the gracious appearance and remarks of Her Majesty Queen Noor al-Hussein.
AAIF presented Kahlil Gibran Awards to The Marshall Legacy Institute (Award for Institutional Excellence), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Award for International Commitment), and Michael Kaiser (Award for Individual Achievement). The Foundation also honored Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni with the sixth annual Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service, named in honor of Queen Noor’s father, Najeeb Halaby. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, last year’s Halaby recipient, presented the award to Dr. Zerhouni.
Valerie Jarrett began by noting that she gladly accepted the invitation to speak because of her respect for the work of the Arab American community and added that President Obama, upon hearing where she was going, asked her to convey his personal wishes as well. She concluded her remarks by noting that the Administration is preparing to unveil an initiative designed to dramatically increase the number of volunteers working in the U.S. – challenging those in attendance to think of ways that they might be able to volunteer in the service of their communities and this country.
Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, was recognized for his visionary work in bringing together Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World, a three-week festival celebrating the arts and cultures of Arab society at the Kennedy Center which brought together the largest collection of artists from all of the Arab countries that had ever been assembled – even in the Arab World.
Anthony Lake, current chairman of the Marshall Legacy Institute, accepted the award on MLI’s behalf for its work in helping highly contaminated countries, including Lebanon, deal with the scourge of land mines by providing resources such as bomb-sniffing dogs.
Accepting the award on behalf of UNRWA was its Commissioner-General, Karen AbuZayd. She noted that her organization played a critical role in the life of the Palestinian people, but that the spirit and hard work of the population and its refusal to give into despair was also critical to UNRWA’s success. AbuZayd stressed that the organization’s work would not be finished until the 4.6 million Palestinian refugees it assists have the opportunity to live in dignity and security in a state of their own.