The Lebanese-American poet, painter and philosopher Kahlil Gibran lived and wrote in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Best-known for his 1923 work, "The Prophet," a collection of spiritual poems, Gibran has long been celebrated for his skill at merging Eastern and Western philosophies. His writings reflect his love of humanity and equality, as well as his commitment to better understanding among racial, ethnic, and religious communities.
For the past eight years, Gibran's spirit has inspired a unique awards program at the Washington-based Arab American Institute, designed to honor those whose lives and works mirror Gibran's vision of humanity.
Gibran Khalil Gibran -- his full name -- is honored with a statue and a small park on a major street in the American capital. His vision of brotherhood is honored with the Khalil Gibran Spirit of Humanity awards.
This year's recipients include Congressman John Dingell, the longest-serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He received special recognition for outstanding public service:
"All of us,” said the congressman, “regardless of from where we come, bring great gifts, great riches, great strength and goodness to this wonderful land of which we are so proud and to which we are so grateful"
John Sununu, former Chief of Staff for the first President Bush, and governor of New Hampshire for three terms, received the Gibran Spirit of Humanity Award for Public Service.
"The message I tried to give to people is to get involved, to be part of the process, and to let people know what the facts are and the truth is," said the former governor.
Habitat for Humanity, an American humanitarian organization, has built more than 200,000 homes for families in need throughout the world. Its president, Reverend John Reckford, accepted the Gibran award for institutional achievement.
"Through his writings, Kahlil Gibran provided a window in his belief in self-reliance and the power of dreams. Through its work with families in need of decent shelters, I believe Habitat for Humanity embodies these same ideas."
In his book, "The Broken Wings", Gibran emphasized the need to empower women, describing their plight as "the bird with broken wings in a cage." U.S. Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes explained why the non-profit group Women for Women International is the recipient of this year's award for International Achievement:
"Women for Women International is the only organization solely dedicated to women's development needs, that operates in the heart of conflict-affected areas. Their goal is to provide opportunities for education and economic access to the most vulnerable and marginalized women, and they have helped more than 55,000 of them in nine countries."
Hughes presented the award to Zeinab Salbi, founder of the organization.
"Women for Women International works with women survivors of wars and we work in countries like Afghanistan, Rwanda, Congo, Iraq, Bosnia and different countries. When a woman gets sponsored, we help her get vocational skills, training, business training and we help her rebuild her life after war."
The 2006 Gibran Awards also paid tribute to the late Moustapha Akkad. The Hollywood film producer, who devoted his career to bridging the gap between East and West, was killed in a terrorist attack in Jordan last year:
Entertainer Kasey Kasem said, "Akkad was acting as a conduit for information and understanding. His early success in television would set the stage for his most personal and difficult challenge, to bring the story of Islam to the big screen. This massive undertaking would take over seven years to achieve and force him to face unimaginable obstacles. His dream was not to be denied."
To highlight the need to understand the diverse cultures in the United States, Arab-American comedians M & M offered "How to be an Arab in five easy lessons."
The comic entertainment at this year's Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards was a fitting tribute to a poet who once wrote, "In the sweetness of friendship, let there be laughter and joy."
Video courtesy: Habitat for Humanity, Women for Women International, "Tribute to Moustapha Akkad" -- The Arab American Institute