Posted by on May 05, 2011 in Blog

Yesterday, May 4th, hundreds of guests from across the globe filled the Renaissance Hotel Ball Room in downtown Washington, DC for the 2011 Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards Gala, hosted by the Arab American Institute Foundation (AAIF). The black tie event was kicked off with a beautiful performance by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a project of the Barenboim-Said Foundation, followed by opening remarks by William Daley, White House Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama. Daley talked about the essential role Arab Americans play in our country, highlighted the challenging but hopeful times we have ahead of us in the Middle East, and asked the Arab American community to help the Administration be the partners we need on the road to a better future.

Vital Voices, an organization that empowers women leaders throughout the world, was recognized and honored for Institutional Excellence. The Award was presented by Vital Voices and Arab American Institute board member Samia Farouki, and accepted by Vital Voices’ President Alyse Nelson. During her acceptance speech, Nelson announced the Middle Eastern and North African Women’s Leadership Fund – “a pledge to double our efforts by training, mentoring and resourcing thousands of women throughout this region over the next five years.”

US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood presented the Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service to Governor Mitch Daniels; both high ranking Arab American officials. Governor Daniels in turn noted he was glad to have not been able to persuade Secretary LaHood to run for Governor in Illinois, as we would not have such a great Secretary of Transportation otherwise. Daniels also noted that the hopes and dreams that brought many Arab Americans to this country are now alive in the Middle East as people there are determined to bring about liberty for their families and communities.

Actor and US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) Ambassador Jeff Fahey presented the Special Recognition Award to USCRI in celebration of its 100th year anniversary; which was accepted by the organization’s President Lavinia Limón. Limón urged us as we celebrate the spirit and achievements of the Arab Spring not to forget the refugees being created by the instability, and to commit ourselves to them as well.

The evening wrapped up with the highlight of our times: recognizing and honoring the youth of the Arab Spring movements. AAI President Jim Zogby introduced the Presenter of the Special Recognition Award to the Youth of the Arab Spring, Ayman Mohyeldin of Al Jazeera, whose coverage of Egyptian revolution and other events got him on Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2011. Mohyeldin, in turn, spoke from the heart and urged the world not to turn its back on the forces of change in the Middle East. He also introduced a video message by one of the most remarkable leaders of the Egyptian revolution Wael Ghonim. Wael noted that while their movement had no defined leadership, it nevertheless led one of the greatest uprisings in the world. To the intense applause of the audience, the Award was accepted by Dina Amer, Sherif Makhlouf, and Jawad Nabulsi of the Egyptian revolution.