Common Ground Awards 2006

Our annual Common Ground Awards were held at the United Nations in New York, for the first time, on November 1st. The event brought together an inspiring group of individuals who are making a difference through their belief that things can change and through their commitment to working for that change. This year Search for Common Ground honored:

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Sesame Workshop
John Whitehead
Taylor Branch
David Broza and Wissam Murad & Said Murad
Bradley Burston, Simone Korkus, Vivian Salama (Middle East Journalism)

We were honored to welcome Lt.-Gen. (Ret.) The Honorable Senator Romeo Dallaire to be the special guest speaker. The Senator spoke about his focus on the elimination of the use of child soldiers as weapons of war, and about his global initiative in partnership with SFCG on this critical issue.

Israeli music star David Broza was there to receive the Music Award, and to everyone's enthusiastic delight, he and Palestinian musician Ibrahim Eid performed several spirited songs in both Hebrew and Arabic.

The acclaimed actress Kathleen Turner was the talented and beautiful "master of ceremonies," and we are so grateful to her for all that she contributed to making the evening a success.

Read more from our guests below.

Master of Ceremonies Kathleen Turner and John Marks, President of SFCG

John Marks
President and Founder, Search for Common Ground

The biggest obstacle we face is the belief that "it can't be done." "It's not possible." But, we stand for the idea that it is possible, that things can change, solutions can be found and what's more is that you have to do it, you have to keep moving in that direction. The Common Ground Awards is a wonderful annual event. It's a celebration when we honor people who do the work that needs to be done in the world. And it's an absolutely wonderful evening.

John Marks with Laura and Kate Ross

Laura Ross
2006 Common Ground Awards NY Planning Committee Chairperson

It's inspiring that there are so many people out there doing amazing things to make the world a better place. It was wonderful to be a part of it tonight.

Children presenters and Grover with Gary Knell, President and CEO of Sesame Workshop

Gary Knell
President and CEO of Sesame Workshop Recipient of Lifetime Achievement Award

It was so inspiring to hear people from the Middle East, from America, and from around the world coming together around this common bond, giving us all hope in a deeply troubled time. I walk away inspired and ready to get back to work in the morning.

David Ross
Search for Common Ground Board Member

At some point in your life, you stop thinking about the present, and you start thinking about the future; you stop thinking about yourself, and you start thinking about others-your family, close friends, community. This organization has helped me reach that point in my life because the work they do is not about themselves, it's not about today or tomorrow. It's about years and decades from now. Search for Common Ground has a vision that they're working toward, and I think they will reach, when the world is more peaceful.

Senator Romeo Dallaire and Sandra Melone, Executive Director of SFCG

The Honorable Senator Roméo Dallaire
Special Guest Speaker

In this era of enormous complexity, and often ambiguity, we have to work to get the weapons away from the debate. And one of the weapons that is used in many of the developing nations that are in conflict, is using children as instruments of war. And so my goal is to eradicate the use of children as weapons of war. And Search for Common Ground has been the catalyst for my research, and a partner.

Steve Utterwulghe, VP International Development--SFCG; The Honorable Senator Roméo Dallaire; Kathleen Turner

Shamil Idriss
Search for Common Ground Board Member and Deputy Director of Alliance of Civilizations at the United Nations

I worked with the organization for thirteen years; I still feel very much a part of the it, not just because I'm on the board, but the mission of the organization very much resonates with who I am, what I believe, and the work that I want to do in the world. Whether people like it or not, we are moving closer to a world where people genuinely believe that their children's future is only going to be as good as the future of the children worst off in the world, and if you start believing that, you're going to order your priorities a little differently. I think you're going to act a little differently and we're moving towards that place of realization.

Taylor Branch and John Marks, President of SFCG

Taylor Branch
Book Award Recipient

What I especially appreciated about the Awards evening was the variety and wide breadth of people converging on one topic -- which is how much common ground there really is. There were people from Sesame Street, musicians from the Middle East, a general, journalists, etc. The evening made us all feel that there is hope that shines through even during these dark times. I thought it was a wonderful evening.

Peter Henkel
President and CEO, Coventry Partners

Search for Common Ground helps to give us that inspiration that we need as parents, to instill in our children the need to build bridges, and also to give us some confidence that maybe the world they'll inherit may be, after all, better than the one that
we live in.

David Broza and Ibrahim Eid

David Broza
Music Award Recipient

This was a moment to get inspired. Hope is an inner feeling. It's somewhat naïve. I want to believe. I'm a musician and I'm here to celebrate. So I choose to sing and music evokes good feelings. And that's hope.

John Whitehead and Nikki Stern

Dan Storper
Founder and President of Putamayo World Music

The quality of the words and the spirit of the audience and speakers was wonderful. It made us recognize that we're people traveling together on some difficult paths and trying to achieve what appears to be impossible. Music, art, dance, and film are all aspects of cultures that represent the positive creation of a people. Search for Common Ground has tapped into that. It inspires me to hear great music. And it makes it very easy to continue.

Kathryn Grody and Frances Fortune, Africa Programs Director--SFCG

Kathryn Grody
Writer, Actress, and Common Ground Award Committee Member

Tonight is about honoring the work that comes out of Search and they, in turn, are honoring specific people who exemplify the work. For example, a Palestinian singer and an Israeli singer who are friends, who work together, and who actually practice common ground. They are an example of what the future could look like, even though the present doesn't look like that right now. And when an individual Palestinian talks to an individual Israeli or when you can say, "I spoke with somebody I disagreed with and we achieved something in common or at least we broke bread together," then you multiply that through the work of a large, international organization like SFCG, and then people begin to see this is a very simple idea that could actually have profound effects on people's daily lives and on all of our lives.

Middle East Journalism Awardees

Bradley Burston
Editor of Ha' Recipient of Middle East Journalism Award

I thank Search for Common Ground for their continued belief that the world is not a lost cause. War is much easier to start than it is to stop. Peace is much easier to break, than it is to make. And despite everything, people on both sides who want peace, even if they have lost their belief in it, can triumph in the end, over their own leaders, over their own grief, over their own very profound pain. It takes optimism without just cause. It takes an ability to take to heart the words of the man who knew the darkness of our times as no one else, Samuel Beckett: "No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Robert Sirleaf, Wachovia Securities Director

Simone Korkus
Knack Magazine Recipient of Middle East Journalism Award

It's very, very nice to know that our type of journalism is being respected and rewarded, because when you work as a journalist and you see crisis after crisis, especially in the occupied territories nowadays, then sometimes you lose hope. It's because of these events, and the people here tonight that you fill up with energy again to continue.

Susan Collin Marks
Executive Vice President, Search for Common Ground

For me, making peace is heroic, and so this was a time to celebrate heroes. Making conflict is an incredibly easy thing to do; but to make peace, to go through the difficult process of truly finding common ground in your heart with another human being, is one of the most difficult things for any of us to do. And when people do it, on the scale that our awardees were able to do it on, is totally inspiring, and I leave inspired.

We're living in very difficult times. It is hard to find hope, and I believe that we need to look in the human heart for hope because it's in the human heart that we can actually make peace. And it's from that place that we then are able to make peace institutionally and in our communities.

By focusing on some individuals who've done that, what we're able to do is to show how individuals can make a difference, starting with themselves and then make a difference in their community and in the world at large. That is the real place I believe that we have to start looking for hope. In difficult times, what an organization like Search for Common Ground can do is to hold a space for hope. And so that when the dust clears, as it will, we will be there. Search was founded on the basis of an idea. And the idea was that we can deal with our conflicts in the world in a constructive way, that we don't have to continue to respond with violence. And from that idea this organization of over 300 people with offices in seventeen countries has emerged and that's just the core of it because around that there are millions of people who listen to our broadcasts, who see our television programs, who are impacted by the work that we do.

My sense is that the reason that we've been able to have that kind of reach is because we go into things for the long term. We understand that the only way that you can really achieve the depth that peace requires is to be there, to be in the country, to be rooted in communities and with the people. We have to stand beside them, and be present with them, as they stand -- with courage and with the most extraordinary willingness to stand for peace in a divided society…do you know how brave that is? The courage that it takes to stand for common ground is extraordinary, and what we can do is stand beside those people and help move that forward to the next level.

Next year, on our 25th anniversary, we will look back at the lessons we've learned and we will look forward to the possibilities because that's what we always stand for.

Please click here if you would like to make an online contribution to support our programmes.