Since 1999, the Washington-based Arab American Institute Foundation has honored groups and individuals that are working to foster cross-cultural understanding with an award named for poet and philosopher Khalil Gibran. The Lebanese American, perhaps best known for his 1923 collection of spiritual poems titled The Prophet, is also remembered for his love of humanity, his passion for equality and his skill at merging Eastern and Western philosophies. This year's winners of the Gibran awards, as in years past, embody the poet's ideals, and inspire hope for a more just, peaceful world.
At a recent awards gala in Washington, D.C., Helen Samhan, the Executive Director of the Arab American Institute Foundation said the Gibran Spirit of Humanity awards serve a simple purpose "to demonstrate the Arab American community's appreciation for acts of humanity, promoting tolerance and cooperation among racial and ethnic groups."
This year's winner of the Gibran Award for individual achievement was Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, one of the most respected voices for human rights and social justice in the U.S. Catholic Church.
"If anyone deserves a spirit of humanity award, it is truly he," said California Senator Diane Feinstein, as she presented the honor to Cardinal McCarrick. "I have had a chance to work with him on a few issues and I have seen his compassion and his passion for people, whether it is pushing for immigration reform, promoting religious tolerance or advocating for peace in the Middle East."
In his acceptance speech, Cardinal McCarrick said that if the world wants peace in the Middle East it must find a just settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, a cause, McCarrick suggested, that Gibran himself might have championed. "I am one of the very many people in the world who is trying to work for peace and justice," said McCarrick. "I think Gibran would be very happy to have people working for peace and justice, for the harmony in the world that he worked for, that his spiritual gifts were so much involved with."
Khalil Gibran once said: "the difference between the richest man and the poorest man is but a day of hunger and an hour of thirst." The Gibran Award for International Commitment went this year to Global Impact, a U.S organization that for over half a century has provided charitable support to some of the world's poorest communities.
"Global impact has helped turn small regular contributions from hundreds of thousands of workers into miracles for millions of people around the world," said Dina Powell, former Assistant Secretary of State for Cultural Affairs, who presented the award. "That's making a tangible difference in the lives of individuals and families every year."
Powell added that Global Impact touches more than 400 million lives worldwide through programs for disaster relief, education, health training and economic programs that emphasize self-sufficiency.
Attorney Ken Schaner, a Global Impact board member, accepted the award with a quote from Gibran: The significance of a man is not in what he attains, but rather in what he longs to attain.
"At Global Impact," Schaner said, "we are humbled and privileged to serve the deep need and longing of so many who strive to bring peace and justice in this world."
This year's Gibran Award for Institutional Excellence went to Search for Common Ground, a non-governmental organization that sponsors conflict resolution programs in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Indonesia and the United States.
Accepting the award was Search for Common Ground's president, John Marks, who described the group's extraordinary reach. "Search for Common Ground is the largest conflict resolution NGO in the world," he explained. "We work in 16 countries around the world. In the Middle East for example, we made a series of documentaries that were the first in history ever to show simultaneously on Israeli, Palestinian and Arab satellite TV, and nobody had ever done that before. We specialize in bringing people together across the divide."
Among past recipients of the Gibran awards have been former Polish President Lech Walesa, former world boxing Champion Mohamed Ali, the British rock star Sting, the relief group American Near East Refugee Aid and Habitat for Humanity.