Tears and Flowers – The 2011 Common Ground Awards
Holding up his Common Ground Award, Cardinal McCarrick likened its design to both a flower and a tear. He accepted his award for his role in securing the Freedom of the American Hikers from Iran saying the design was fitting, “For along this journey there have been many tears, but there have been flowers too.”
This might very well have been the official theme of the 2011 Common Ground Awards. Each of the honorees had faced remarkable struggles, in many cases near-death experiences. They had seen the ugliest of human nature. But they remained unbowed and showed that however easy it may be to meet hatred with more hatred, there are ordinary people doing the opposite each day.
“This action of showing compassion and mercy taken by the families [of the hikers] is something our governments can learn from,” Ambassador (Ret.) Bill Miller said, accepting his award alongside Cardinal McCarrick. He and the Cardinal were introduced by Cindy Hickey and Alex Fattal, the mother and brother of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, respectively. Both said that in their darkest moments, especially when the Iranian government was not allowing phone calls, faith sustained them. During one of their early meetings with the clerics in Washington, Alex remembered a quote of the Cardinal’s that helped to sustain his hope: “Prayer can go through walls,” he said.
Another awardee found forgiveness and hope in his faith. Taking the stage to a standing ovation, Rais Bhuiyan, who campaigned to have his attacker’s death sentence commuted, said, “We, in our lives, can make a difference when we move away from hate and revenge and turn to love and forgiveness.” He added, “This is not tribal, it’s not about skin color. This is a human issue.”
Emmanuel Jal brought the entire room to its feet, with a rousing rendition of his hit song, We Want Peace. Introduced by his “friend and brother,” John Prendergast, Jal was magnetic , passionate and humbly suggested he did not know how to accept an award that had previously been given to heroes of his, like Desmond Tutu. “I believe in putting light in a dark place,” Jal said. And so he accepted the award on behalf of those whose voices continue to go unheard, to hopefully be able to bring light to them.
Dr. Daniel Kaufmann, accepted the Award on behalf of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to which he is a senior advisor. He passed along the regrets of Mo and Hadeel Ibrahim who were unfortunately unable to be in attendance and spoke of the Foundation’s strength of vision, that change in Africa can come from within.
The evening ended with the award given to the Freedom Riders, many of whom were in the audience and took the stage to be recognized for their outstanding service to Civil Rights and tolerance in America and beyond. The applause when they took the stage was thunderous. They were introduced by Civil Rights Historian and Pulitzer Prize-winner, Taylor Branch. Diane Nash spoke powerfully of the idea the ordinary people can make their voices heard and cannot leave the serious business of making change up to politicians. You have the power, she told the audience.
Dr. Ysaye Barnwell, of Sweet Honey in the Rock fame, then led the audience and Freedom Riders first in “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round,” and “This Little Light of Mine.”
It was certainly an inspiring and hopeful evening and demonstrated the truth of the Cardinal’s words. There may be tears, but they can water beautiful flowers.