A Night of Tributes

By Refugees International
From the left, RI President Michel Gabaudan, RI board member H.M Queen Noor, Lauren Bush Lauren, David Lauren
By Hanna Toda, Development Intern

On the evening of Thursday, May 10, the pounding Japanese drums of the Nen Daiko Ensemble summoned guests into the Mellon Auditorium for RI’s 33rd Anniversary Dinner. Roughly 500 individuals gathered to honor social entrepreneur Lauren Bush Lauren, Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), the late Congressman Donald Payne (D-NJ), and Haitian human rights activist Colette Lespinasse for their humanitarian efforts. RI Board Member and Academy Award-nominated actor Matt Dillon carried the audience through the evening as master of ceremonies.

See our photo report from the dinner.

Sam Waterston, the renowned actor and RI’s longest-serving board member, presented the first of the awards to Rep. Chris Smith and Rep. Donald Payne, for their leadership of the Africa, Global Health and Human Rights Subcommittee in the House of Representatives. Rep. Payne, who passed away in March, was remembered warmly in the remarks of Rep. Smith, who went on to speak passionately about his many years of cooperation with RI on Capitol Hill.

Shortly thereafter, Colette Lespinasse, head of the Haitian human rights alliance GARR, received the Richard C. Holbrooke Leadership Award for her activism on behalf of displaced Haitians and stateless people in the Dominican Republic. The award was presented by the late Ambassador Holbrooke’s wife Kati Marton, and her daughter Elizabeth Jennings. Ms. Martin spoke of how thrilled her husband would have been to have Ms. Lespinasse receive this honor in his name.

Last, but certainly not least, Lauren Bush Lauren was awarded RI’s highest honor, the McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian Award, in recognition of her work as head of FEED Projects - a social enterprise whose line of fashion accessories has raised millions of dollars for hungry children. Mrs. Lauren took to the stage carrying (appropriately enough) a FEED purse, and spoke with grace and humility about her experiences and passion for social change. The award was presented by Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, a long-time board member and supporter of RI, who called Lauren “a role model for young humanitarians.” “We have great expectations of her,”she added.

The evening also had its lighter moments. In an especially comical slip-up, Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki of Japan had the audience roaring when he appeared to miscalculate how many years he had been married to his wife, Yoriko - who happened to be standing next to him on stage. He recovered gracefully, however, saying that he just felt “so young being with her.” The night also concluded with a fantastic performance by vocalist Julia Braxton and pianist Julian Spires, two young talents from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. When the evening came to an end, guests joined Mrs. Lauren, Mr. Dillon, and RI’s Young Humanitarian Circle for an after-party hosted by Fujimar Restaurant.

Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the participants, this year’s Anniversary Dinner raised more than $650,000 in support of RI’s life-saving advocacy. The entire board and staff offer their sincere thanks to all who attended, and are already looking forward to next year’s anniversary celebration!