The 2003 WANGO Awards Banquet, held on the evening of September 27 in the Amari Watergate Ballroom, was, again, one of the highlights of the Annual Conference.
Making the Award presentations were Dr. Chung Hwan Kwak, Chairman of the WANGO International Council and Taj Hamad, Secretary General of WANGO. Dr. Noel Brown, Chairman of the WANGO Awards Nominating Committee, was the evening's master of ceremonies. Dr. Brown, who is the President of Friends of the United Nations, welcomed each of the award recipients into WANGO's Circle of Excellence.
The first presentation was the WANGO Environment Award 2003 to the Green Belt Movement (GBM) of Kenya. Founded in 1977 by Dr. Wangari Maathai and the National Council of Women of Kenya, the Green Belt Movement (GBM) has become one of the world's most successful programs to combine environmental protection and community development. From its humble beginning as a small tree nursery in Dr. Maathai's own back yard, the GBM has grown into a force of more than 150,000 Kenyans, 6,000 women's groups and 5,000 grassroots nurseries. More than one million volunteers have been involved since the program's inception, mostly youth, and over 20 million trees have been planted on farms, school property, church compounds, and other public and private sites.
The GBM was created out of the vision of Dr.Wangari Maathai, who is internationally renowned for her undaunted work for democracy, human rights and environmental issues. In making the decision to present this award, the WANGO International Council was most impressed with the persistent and courageous commitment of Dr. Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement to the values of sustainability and the protection of the natural environment, in spite of frequent, serious obstacles and even physical assault. WANGO sees the GBM is an exemplar of the "Think Globally - Act Locally" approach to systematic change, and of a holistic approach to saving the earth acre-by-acre, villageby-village, person-by-person.
Wanjira Maathai, International Liaison for GBM and the daughter of Dr. Maathai, received the WANGO Environment Award 2003 on behalf of GBM. After accepting the award, Ms. Maathai referred to the GBM's symbol of the tree while addressing the audience. "We know that leadership and service in communities requires commitment, persistence and a lot of patience. Like a seed, it will germinate, grow and be visible so that people will be inspired by it." She emphasized that "We must continue to encourage each other to be agents of change, and be among the small group of people who make things happen, rather than watch them happen."
The WANGO Human Rights Award 2003 was presented to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Mr. Roy Innis, the National Director of CORE, received the award. Founded in 1942, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) is the third oldest and one of the "Big Four" civil rights groups in the United States. CORE played a fundamental role in so many critical milestones in the U.S. civil rights movement that its history is a large part of the story of the civil rights movement. The interracial group of students who founded CORE was deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi's teachings of nonviolent resistance. CORE pioneered the strategy of nonviolent direct action, especially the tactics of sit-ins, jail-ins, and freedom rides. Under the leadership of Roy Innis, who became the organization's third National Director in 1968, CORE reached a new level, and became a supporter of black economic development and community self-determination. With the banner of "truth, logic and courage," CORE continues to promote harmony and healing in all aspects of society, calling the shots straight, even when it hurts. In making the decision to present CORE with its 2003 Human Rights Award, the consistent and courageous commitment of CORE and the Honorable Roy Innis to the highest values of true equality for all people most impressed the WANGO International Council. CORE's more than 60 years of service to promoting harmony and healing, as well as advancing nonviolent solutions, is especially admirable and exemplary for the rest of the world.
In his acceptance speech, Mr. Roy Innis spoke of Dr. Martin Luther King. "Dr. King was able to focus the civil rights revolution. He was not the only participant in that great effort. But, he was able to focus it-to indirectly coordinate the civil rights revolution." Mr. Innis continued. "That function is needed on the worldwide stage in terms of the human rights organizations. In fact, after this conference, I have the feeling that WANGO can play that role of focusing the human rights revolution worldwide. I call on WANGO to be that focus, through events like this, and to be that informer and coordinator. I am proud to be among all of you fellow human rights activists across the world."
Following the presentation of the WANGO Awards, Dr. Noel Brown commented on the design and symbolism reflected in the award itself. "The Award reflects the spirit of WANGO, which is the spirit of transparency: the spirit of affection. The Award provides a meaningful and powerful symbol of caring hands." Dr. Brown concluded, "This is the message of this conference: Caring hands for an ethical and caring community."