Posted on April 24, 2017 in Press Releases
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Arab Americans Celebrate Legacy of Kahlil Gibran with Spirit of Humanity Awards
19th Annual Event Honors: Hamdi Ulukaya, The Arc of the U.S., Greg Simon, Steve Coll & Kamal Boullata

April 27, 2017 (Washington) – Tonight, the Arab American community will honor the legacy of author and poet Kahlil Gibran during the 19th annual Spirit of Humanity Awards. Through the event, Arab Americans recognize individuals, corporations, organizations and communities whose work, commitment and support make a difference in promoting coexistence and inclusion in all walks of life. The awards are named for the author of The Prophet, whose message of human endurance and triumph was so evident in his life and work. The awards further symbolize Gibran’s pride in his Arab heritage, respect for the freedom he found in the United States and his universal love of humanity.  

Past gala participants and awardees include former President Bill Clinton, Her Majesty Queen Noor al-Hussein, actress Salma Heyak, former President of Poland Lech Walesa, former Sen. George Mitchell, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former professional boxer Muhammad Ali, actor and philanthropist Jamie Farr and recording star Sting.

MSNBC News Anchor and NBC News Foreign Correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin will act as Master of Ceremonies for the 2017 Gala.

2017 Awardees: 

Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO of Chobani: Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Award for Individual Achievement

An immigrant, Ulukaya established his Greek yogurt company “Chobani” in 2007. In less than a decade, he grew the company’s worth to more than $1 billion. After witnessing the worsening refugee crisis around the globe, he established the Tent Foundation—his personal philanthropy that seeks to improve the lives and livelihoods of the world’s 65 million refugees and displaced people and help them realize their full potential. Understanding the intricate and enduring nature of this crisis, Mr. Ulukaya signed the “Giving Pledge” in 2015, committing to give away most of his personal wealth over his lifetime to assist refugees. His commitment to refugees extends to his own business, which employs hundreds of resettled refugees and empowers them and their families to succeed.  Sitting on the boards of the Special Olympics and the Pathfinder Village, he is a testament to living one’s life in service of others.

“Like Kahlil Gibran, Hamdi Ulukaya is an immigrant who chose to make America his home and we are all the beneficiaries. Whether it be refugees, his own employees or the disability community, Hamdi has chosen to put the success and well-being of others first. His seemingly endless love for humanity and belief that businesses can change the world for the better, has impacted the lives of countless individuals, and made our world a better place. For lifting so many and for acting as a living example of how to empower those around us, we are proud to honor Hamdi with the 2017 Gibran Award for Individual Achievement,” said AAIF Foundation Director Maya Berry.    

The Arc of the United States: Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Award for Institutional Excellence

The Arc is the largest national community-based organization advocating for and promoting the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities by supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. The Arc encompasses all ages and more than 100 different diagnoses including autism, Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, and various other developmental disabilities. From its inception, The Arc has consistently campaigned for and developed platforms upon which individuals with disabilities can act as advocates for themselves, placing their voices at the forefront of a movement. With programs like the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability, its work is a reminder that timely issues like criminal justice reform impact a cross-section of communities.

“It is my great honor to accept this award on behalf of The Arc’s chapters and members across the country. We need allies like those being honored here tonight to create a more inclusive and accepting society, and we thank the Arab American Institute Foundation for bringing us all together. I look forward to a lasting relationship between our organizations as we collectively pursue inclusion for all,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

“One of Khalil Gibran’s key messages was that of human triumph and inclusion. The Arc of the United States symbolizes that spirit. Over the course of 60 years, the work of The Arc has helped bring us all out of the one-size fits all mentality to realize how much we have to gain from the full participation of the intellectually and developmentally disabled community. Not only has The Arc been integral in empowering this community and their families to fully engage and advocate for their rights, but their nationwide network has lifted their voices to ensure that those with intellectual or developmental disabilities live the lives they choose and live lives of quality. For this work, which makes our nation stronger, we are proud to recognize The Arc with Kahlil Gibran Award for Institutional Excellence,” said Berry.

Senator Amy Klobuchar will present the Award for Institutional Excellence Award to The Arc of the U.S.  

Greg Simon, Executive Director, Biden Cancer Initiative: Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service 

Simon, who started his career in public service as General Counsel and Staff Director of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology before going on to become Legislative Director for then-Senator Gore has always had a passion for science, technology and new discoveries. These talents served him well when he joined the White House as Chief Domestic Policy Advisor to Vice President Al Gore. During his time at the White House, Mr. Simon oversaw the development and passage of several key biotechnology initiatives at the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration while also helping to negotiate the U.S.-Russia agreement on the International Space Station. Mr. Simon continued his dedication to advocating for and crafting forward-thinking policies even after leaving government service. In 2003, he was selected to serve as the founding president of FasterCures and led key programs that pushed for increased data sharing in the field of biomedicine and the quicker dissemination of life-saving medicines for deadly and debilitating diseases. He went on to serve as a Senior Vice President at Pfizer, developing crucial programs that increased collaboration with nonprofit research organizations; and CEO at Poliwogg, a crowdfunding firm for healthcare and science-focused startups. In 2016, Mr. Simon was appointed by Vice President Biden to lead the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force. 

“My family's history of public service started with my Grandfather, an immigrant from Bteghrine, Lebanon who, on his own, wrote every member of Congress and visited the Roosevelt White House to promote cotton price supports to get the South out of the Depression. I have been involved in politics and government since I was 13 and cannot imagine a life doing anything else.  It never occurred to me anyone would give me an award for doing what I love. But I cannot imagine an award that would make me prouder than the Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service from the Arab-American Institute Foundation. It encompasses not just my work but the heroic efforts of all my Lebanese grandparents to give their children a life in America, for which I will always be grateful. Through the work of the AAIF we can preserve and protect both our Arabic heritage and the continued contributions of Arab Americans to the United States,” said Greg Simon, 2017 Najeeb Halaby Award recipient.

“Public servants are often the unsung heroes of our democracy and Greg Simon is no exception to that adage. For decades, he has worked quietly, collaboratively and successfully for the best interests of the American people. He has taken this commitment into his private sector efforts as well. Whether it be his work on the Challenger Shuttle disaster, our information infrastructure, the International Space Station agreement, the Human Genome Project or biomedicine he has dedicated himself to advancing our communities, our country and our shared future. As he picks up one of the greatest challenges of our time, advancing the fight against cancer, we are honored to recognize his contributions with the Najeeb Halaby Service Award,” said AAIF Executive Director Maya Berry. 

AAIF created the Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service in 2004. The only annual award offered exclusively to an Arab American, the Halaby Award recognizes not merely its namesake’s extensive public service career, but also his strong and visible pride in his ethnic heritage. Halaby, father of Her Majesty Queen Noor, served as CEO of Pan American World Airways in the late 1960s and early 1970s and headed the Federal Aviation Administration under President Kennedy. 

Steve Coll, Pulitzer Prize winner and Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism: Anthony Shadid Award for Excellence in Journalism

The author of seven books on topics ranging from exposés on ExxonMobil’s dealings, to his travels throughout South Asia covering corruption and violence in the region, Coll’s career has been dedicated to exploring and reporting some of the world’s most pressing topics. His 2004 book Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 offered a searing account of the CIA’s operations in Afghanistan and its many failed attempts to capture Osama Bin Laden. Garnering Coll a Pulitzer Prize in 2005, his reporting helped broaden the American public’s understanding of the events that led to September 11.  As Dean and Henry R. Luce Professor of Journalism at Columbia, Coll teaches courses on Narrative Writing and the International Newsroom. A staff writer at the New Yorker, Coll frequently writes on foreign intelligence and national security.

“The award is a humbling and very personal honor. Anthony Shadid was an inspiration and a role model and I'm thrilled above all to have a fresh opportunity to remember him and his work,” said Steve Coll, 2017 Anthony Shadid Award recipient.

“As our country struggles with the changing reality of the media landscape, one thing remains true – quality journalism empowers our citizenry and strengthens our democracy. Steve Coll has spent a lifetime dedicated to this truth, telling powerful stories, no matter where they may take him. Both Gibran and Shadid believed in the power of storytelling, of seeking and sharing the truth for the betterment of humanity. Steve Coll’s lifetime of work reflects these values and we are proud to recognize him with the 2017 Shadid Award,” said Berry. 

The Anthony Shadid Award for Excellence in Journalism is named for the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist. The award was created in 2012 to honor Anthony’s work and legacy. The biennial Award recognizes those journalists whose coverage has had a longstanding and groundbreaking impact. Former Anthony Shadid Award recipient Lawrence Wright will present this year’s award.

Kamal Boullata, Artist and Writer: Special Recognition 

A pioneer of contemporary Arabic art, Boullata began his career as a painter, mounting exhibitions and reading his translations of Palestinian poetry at universities across the United States. During this time, Boullata designed a wide range of posters highlighting the Palestinian struggle for justice and designed the logos of several Palestinian aid institutions. Always expanding his reach and pushing his work to new horizons, Boullata pursued field research on Islamic art in Morocco and Spain and on post-Byzantine painting in Palestine. In 2012-13, Kamal Boullata was elected as a Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin.

“As we approach the 50th anniversary of the occupation, it’s important to recognize that Palestinian culture continues to thrive under the most difficult of circumstances. For Palestinians, art is a source of optimism, courage and steadfastness. It’s a statement of determination, human endurance and celebration of the human spirit. Kamal Boullata is one of the great artists breathing life into this ideal. He has given so much, not only to Palestinians and Arab Americans but to humanity which is why we are honored to give him this special recognition,” said AAIF Director Maya Berry. 

WHAT: 19th annual Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards gala 

HONOREES INCLUDE:  The Arc of the United States, Hamdi Ulukaya, Steve Coll, Greg Simon and Kamal Boullata

WHERE: Grand Hyatt Hotel, 1000 H St. NW, Washington, D.C. 

WHEN: Thursday, April 27, 2017 Reception 5:30PM | Gala dinner 6:30PM

MEDIA RSVP:; 202-429-9210



About AAIF: The Arab American Institute Foundation’s goal is to encourage, recognize, and celebrate Arab American participation in American civic life, and to cultivate and mobilize a strong, educated, empowered Arab American community that can play a meaningful role in developing and improving U.S. policies. A not-for-profit affiliate of the Arab American Institute (AAI), the Foundation supports programs that promote greater awareness of Arab Americans in the United States, demographic research and international outreach. The AAIF serves as the primary national resource on the Arab American experience for the media, academia, government agencies and the private sector. Through its numerous outreach programs, the AAIF builds leadership skills among students and young professionals and informs the American public, government agencies and organizations about the contributions and concerns of Americans of Arab descent.