Posted on November 03, 2010 in Arab American Institute
On April 21, 2010, 700 members, supporters, and partners from around the country attended the Arab American Institute Foundation's (AAIF's) Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards Gala. Master of Ceremonies and founding AAI Board member Jean AbiNader opened the black tie event by inviting attendees to celebrate the tremendous accomplishments of the evening's awardees, as well as the achievements of the Arab American Institute, which marks its 25th anniversary this year.
AAI President and co-founder Dr. James Zogby introduced the evening's keynote speaker, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who opened her remarks with a very special acknowledgement:
On behalf of President Obama, let me congratulate the Arab American Institute on this 25th anniversary celebration . . . AAI has been a key voice in the larger American chorus: speaking up about pressing needs and concerns, championing increased Arab American participation in our nation's political and civic sphere, and fighting ignorance and intolerance.
Ambassador Rice spoke eloquently and passionately about the Administration's commitment to "resuming negotiations between [Israeli and Palestinian authorities], and helping develop the institutions of a future Palestinian state;" as well as reaffirming its commitment to a sovereign, independent Lebanon, and a responsible end to the war in Iraq.
AAI Chairman George Salem recognized the many Arab American public servants in the audience, reiterating our community's longstanding commitment to working with, for, and toward the betterment of our nation. The recipient of the 2010 Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service is an exceptional example of the caliber of our community's service. Judge Rosemary Barkett, who serves on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, moved the audience with her reminiscences and wit as she spoke about how proud her Syrian parents would be if they saw her accepting the Gibran Award.
The Award for Institutional Excellence was presented to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) by AAIF's Executive Director, Helen Samhan. Noting the presence of Arab American service organizations who have been funded through AmeriCorps grants, the Corporation was recognized for its broad programs that promote volunteerism and community service. The Award was accepted by the Corporation's General Counsel Frank Trinity.
John Zogby, Chairman of Zogby International and another AAI founder, presented the award for Individual Achievement to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. "Recognized globally as a visionary and pragmatic politician, and a leader on the local and national levels," Mayor Daley has promoted the Sister Cities program in the Arab world and pioneered an Arabic language program in Chicago's public schools. The Mayor accepted the award "on behalf of all the residents of Chicago, because only with their full support can we undertake building the kinds of relationships that lead to greater understanding among cultures and greater friendship among nations."
Mary Jane Deeb, Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress, introduced the work of Mr. Juma Al Majid, a businessman and philanthropist from the United Arab Emirates and recipient of the 2010 Award for International Commitment. A well respected and admired business leader, our awardee established the Juma Al Majid Center for Culture and Heritage as a library, research institute, and restoration center to train preservationists from around the globe in state-of-the-art restoration techniques. United Arab Emirates' Ambassador Yousef Al-Otaiba accepted the award on behalf of the honoree and read a personal message of appreciation from Mr. Al Majid.
In one of the evening's most touching moments, Dr. Zogby introduced Mr. and Mrs. Abdulrahman Zeitoun who accepted an award of special recognition. A Syrian-born businessman in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, Mr. Zeitoun spent five days and nights in his canoe, distributing supplies and rescuing other victims. One week after the storm, he was incarcerated as a suspected terrorist and held for weeks without contact with his family or attorney. After being released and exonerated of all charges, Mr. Zeitoun became the subject of The New York Times best-selling book Zeitoun, by Dave Eggars. Last year, the Zeitouns started a foundation using the proceeds from Eggars' book to help rebuild their adopted city of New Orleans and ensure the human rights of all Americans. "I did nothing special," said Mr. Zeitoun, in accepting AAIF's Special Recognition. "I did what anyone would do, what we all would do."
There couldn’t have been a more fitting ending to this inspiring evening than those humble words, bringing to life the true spirit of humanity exemplified in the life and work of Kahlil Gibran. The gala was also an opportunity for AAI to express our admiration of, and our pride in, all the accomplishments of the Arab American community and to give thanks to those who support our efforts and to all who continue working tirelessly to promote the ideals and values of our country and our shared ethnic heritage.