By: Will Youmans *
Washington - The 2007 Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards drew a sell-out crowd here of nearly nine hundred attendees.
Held in a downtown hotel, the event featured prominent politicians, a star Arab-American journalist and a Catholic Cardinal whose lifetime of social justice work was honored. Through the night, many paid tribute to the spirit of peace and hope captured by Gibran's art.
The Arab American Institute Foundation grew out of the Arab-American Institute in 1995. It was designed to promote greater awareness of Arab Americans, provide demographic research and outreach internationally. In 1999 it began an annual tribute to the late Arab American poet and author of "The Prophet" to recognize individuals and groups fostering positive values shared by the foundation.
The gala was a veritable who's who of Arab Americans. The well-dressed crowd not only included Arab Americans from all over the country, including comedian Maysoon Zayid, it attracted staff from 19 embassies, and parliamentary delegations from Denmark and Lebanon.
Remarks by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Dina Powell and former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) demonstrated the growing importance of the event to Arab American political life.
Senator Hagel made the remarkable statement that supporters of Israel criticize him for not being a "consistent" friend of Israel. Though he said he supports Israel, he told the audience his support is not "automatic." Hagel, a potential presidential candidate, said that, "First, I am an American senator." Some members of the audience applauded.
Senator Feinstein invested most of her remarks promoting her work to ban the use of cluster munitions. They were used with disastrous humanitarian consequences by Israel in its bombardment of Lebanon last year.
Dina Powell talked about her rise from a young girl in Cairo to a high post within the State Department. As one of the highest-serving Arab-Americans in government, she considered herself the embodiment of the American dream. She said that "America is not perfect," but "in America, anything is possible." She also referred to President Bush as "the leader of the free world."
Pulitzer Prize winner and "Washington Post" Middle East correspondent, Anthony Shadid, made the most substantive comments, which took the audience from the horrors he reported on in Iraq, to a Lebanon under attack, and to Palestine. He said he felt most for the "victims of conflict," which gave him his most lasting images – including a dead Palestinian who resembled his own grandfather, and a man grieving a child's corpse near a bombed out crater in Baghdad.
The awards recognized the work of the humanitarian group Global Impact, which helps the poor with donations from workplace giving programs. It also highlighted Search for Common Ground, an organization dedicated to global conflict resolution.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., won the award for Individual Achievement for his international service on behalf of human rights and social justice. This long-time friend of Arab Americans promoted both the rights of immigrants and peace in the Middle East.
The Najeeb Halaby Award for Public Service went to the Honorable Teresa Isaac, the mayor of Lexington, Kentucky. As an Arab American mayor with a track record of bridging the divides between various communities, she has been recognized by both the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the State Department for her exemplary leadership.
At the end of the night, as the crowd filed out to leave, many absorbed the long night of speeches and awards. Though tired, many felt the awards demonstrated the growing influence of Arab America. It was a display of a community with growing access to the halls of power and increasing social and cultural significance.
US president John F Kennedy quoted Gibran in his famous speech when he said ” Ask not what your country can do for you , ask what you can do for your country”
*Will Youmans is the Washington, D.C.-based writer for "The Arab-American News."
Picture: An oil painting by Gibran- Self portrait
Sources: The Arab American News
Feedback? We want to hear your thoughts!