Posted on June 02, 2008 in Arab American Institute

The Arab American Institute Foundation (AAIF) hosted a sold-out Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards gala on April 25 in Washington, D.C. Guests gathered at the ninth annual black tie dinner to pay tribute to individuals and organizations whose actions and deeds embody the words of Arab American poet and author Kahlil Gibran.

AAIF presented Gibran Awards to Search for Common Ground, Global Impact and Archbishop Emeritus of Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Teresa Isaac, the former mayor of Lexington, KY, received the fourth annual Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service, presented each year to an Arab American who has excelled in public service while displaying visible pride in his or her heritage. Isaac’s lifelong leadership has helped build bridges between ethnic, racial and religious communities in Lexington, especially after Sept. 11, 2001. All four were recognized for their unfailing dedication to the humanitarian values and ideals that Gibran exemplified in his writing.

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), presented the Award for Individual Achievement to McCarrick in recognition of his tireless commitment to human rights and social justice. The Cardinal is a prominent advocate for social justice and human rights in the U.S., Middle East and throughout the world. He recently joined with other Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders to publicly urge Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to make Middle East peace a U.S. priority. McCarrick accepted the Gibran Award with humility, saying, “You honor me for what I aspired to do, not for what I have done.”

Former Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) presented Search for Common Ground (SFCG) with the Award for Institutional Excellence. President and CEO John Marks accepted the award on behalf of the organization, which for a quarter of a century has conducted conflict resolution programs on four continents. In the Middle East, SFCG fosters non-violent cooperative solutions to the longstanding conflicts in the region by developing independent media, convening regional dialogues, building regional cooperation, and encouraging local capacity-building. SFCG presented a music video from its The Shape of the Future documentary, which explores the possibilities for a lasting peace settlement between Palestinians and Israelis.

State Department Deputy Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Dina Habib Powell presented Global Impact with the Award for International Commitment. Global Impact board member Kenneth Schaner accepted the award on behalf of the organization. Global Impact and its member agencies provide charitable support to people worldwide whose lives are affected by poverty, disaster and neglect.

The organization was selected to administer grants made available by the U.S.-Lebanon Partnership Fund, which is raising awareness and resources to help Lebanese communities rebuild after the 2006 war. Powell has been the Bush Administration’s principal liaison to the Partnership Fund.
AAI Board Member Jean Abi-Nader served as the master of ceremonies for the evening. Board Chairman George Salem thanked all Arab Americans in public service, and asked the many attendees who work in federal, state or local government to stand to be recognized.

The audience was also treated to speeches and appearances by several prominent public figures. New Mexico governor and 2008 presidential candidate Bill Richardson kicked off the evening with a speech in the gala ballroom, saying of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “You have to be pushing very strongly for a two-state solution. The cornerstone of American foreign policy is diplomacy and dialogue.” He added that, if elected, he would close the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq as two of his first acts as president.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) voiced her unwavering commitment to creating peace between Israel and Palestine, and pledged to continue to push for a ban on cluster bombs. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) also addressed the audience, affirming his belief that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is both necessary and within our reach, and emphasizing that the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel does not have to come at the expense of positive relations with the Arab and Muslim world.

Anthony Shadid, a Pulitzer Prize winner and Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post, addressed the gala following an introductory montage narrated by actor Tony Shalhoub. Shadid, lauded in the video for his unique ability to show the toll of war on individuals’ lives and to put a human face to suffering in far-off places, spoke of his experiences covering the Middle East. He noted the irony of having gained so much recognition for his coverage of wars, because he “hates writing about war.” In times of so much destruction, he told the audience, we need to work on building more bridges between the U.S. and the Middle East.