The Arab American Institute Foundation is delighted to announce the 2019 Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service will be awarded posthumously to Miriam Khalil Zayed at the 21st annual Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards on May 2, 2019.
Miriam Zayed was a prominent educator and community activist who worked to build bridges while always pushing for the community’s collective advancement. She was one of those rare individuals who had a gift for bringing people together. She used her gift selflessly, and the bonds Miriam created, often fused together with love, led to lasting change. As a teacher she touched the lives of so many future generations, and she also shared herself with a broad range of professional, cultural, and political organizations and associations, including the Arab American Democratic Club and the Beitunia Club, among others. She was often recognized for her tireless work to help build the region’s first mosque in Bridgeview. Because Miriam cared deeply for those around her and always wanted to be of service, she ran for school board in the 1990s, overcoming local barriers, and went on to serve on the Board of Directors of the Illinois Humanities Council.
As an active member and contributor to the Arab American Institute’s work for decades, Miriam served on the National Policy Council, the Arab American Leadership Council, and was a driving force behind the 1996 Chicago Host Committee for the “Arab American Tribute to the Democratic National Convention." Her regular presence at national community convenings helped to develop the next generation of Arab American leadership.
Miriam’s drive, commitment, and love of community extended to her final days when she secured confirmation from Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan that new legislation would officially designate April as Arab American Heritage Month. This final initiative is one small example of the tremendous fruitions of Miriam’s lifetime of work to educate the greater Chicago community about the unique contributions Arab Americans make every day to our nation.
Each year, the Arab American Institute Foundation (AAIF) identifies and recognizes individuals and organizations who embody Kahlil Gibran’s belief that we must serve others to serve ourselves. Shortly after her passing, AAI President Jim Zogby noted,
"[Miriam] never complained that the challenges we faced were too great and never spoke an unkind word about anyone. She worked to elevate the community, never seeking the limelight for herself."
AAIF is profoundly grateful for the lessons on leadership and selfless service that Miriam Zayed taught us through the example of her life. For her decades of dedication to her students, the greater Chicago area, and the many communities who benefited from her tireless efforts, AAIF is deeply pleased to honor the memory of Miriam Zayed with the 2019 Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service.
Since 1999, the Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards Gala has celebrated individuals and organizations whose works reflect the ideals of the great poet, writer, and artist. In receiving the Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service, Miriam joins a distinguished group of honorees, including Governor Mitch Daniels, Judge Rosemary Barkett, Senator George J. Mitchell, Secretary Ray LaHood, and Ambassador Marcelle Wahba. The award will be presented to Miriam’s family by the Honorable Rashida Tlaib (M-13), the first female member of Congress of Palestinian descent.