"Refugees are those without a lobby. It's an American tradition and our responsibility to step up on behalf of those who are displaced," Governor Richardson told CNN's Wolf Blitzer at Refugees International's 32nd Anniversary Gala on Thursday night. (You can view photos of the evening here .)
Indeed, the 550 people attending the dinner to support RI's mission clearly agreed with Governor Richardson -- this year's recipient of our highest honor, the McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian Award.
After Queen Noor presented this award to Governor Richardson, he sat down with Wolf Blitzer to discuss how helping displaced people in places like Sudan, Pakistan, and the Middle East contributes to global stability and security, something Richardson knows quite a bit about.
Governor Richardson was one of four individuals honored at Thursday's event, which was co-emceed by actors Sam Waterston and Matt Dillon. Whether working in the corridors of power in Washington, DC or a small health clinic in Nairobi, Kenya, each of our honorees has shown an extraordinary commitment to helping people whose lives have been turned upside down by conflict.
The first award was presented by RI's Chairman Emeritus James Kimsey to Senator Leahy for his leadership on humanitarian issues during his four decades of service as a U.S. Senator. Refugees International honored Senator Leahy with the Congressional Leadership Award for consistently ensuring that the U.S. assists and protects refugees and innocent victims of conflict.
But clearly the most moving moment of the evening was when Kati Marton, wife of the late Richard Holbrooke, presented Refugees International’s inaugural Richard C. Holbrooke Leadership Award to Amina Ali.
"Contrary to the Refugees International press release following his sudden death, Richard was not Superman," Kati said. "He may have had a supersize heart – but in fact he was the most fully human being I have ever known… Though he was first of all a brilliant diplomat and negotiator, for Richard, it was refugees –the innocent human toll of war– who had to be at the heart of diplomacy…"
"I recently found a journal Richard kept when he was hitchhiking across the US as an 18-year-old. On one page in capital letters was a single word written six times: PURPOSE… Of course he left too soon, but what a triumphant life he lived! A life of the clearest Purpose. Thank you for continuing his work – which is the best tribute we can pay Richard."
With tears in her eyes, Kati listed numerous ways that Holbrooke had devoted his life to displaced people. She then went on to describe Amina Ali as "an unsung hero" and a truly deserving recipient of the Holbrooke Leadership Award. Amina was a successful businesswoman in Nairobi, Kenya who left behind her lucrative career to establish a clinic. Sadly, Amina passed away just two days before our event , but she had been aware of the award before her death and had shared with us her appreciation and joy for being honored in this tribute video .
The evening ended with a fabulous performance by Emmanuel Jal , a celebrated hip hop artist who spreads messages of peace and reconciliation. As Laurie Monahan, the Benefit Chair of the dinner, explained, Emmanuel Jal was forced to be a child soldier in Southern Sudan when he was eight years old. Years later, he escaped to Kenya as a refugee.
Jal showed all of us a photo of himself at eight years old in Sudan, emphasizing just how far he had journeyed to be on stage that night. He then sang his acclaimed song, "We Want Peace":
I dedicate this song to the common people
Caught in the middle of this common evil
I wish the world was a little bit fairer
Time we start looking at the man in the mirror
Stand up, stand up
You want peace and I want peace
As the audience got on their feet, we all joined together to show our commitment to working towards that peace.