Auburn Seminary’s 20th annual Lives of Commitment Awards honors leaders of faith and moral courage

For Immediate Release
April 20, 2016
Contact: Lauren Gray ([email protected] / 212-255-2575)


Auburn Seminary’s 20th annual Lives of Commitment Awards honors leaders of faith and moral courage

2016 honoree Melissa Harris-Perry on resilience: ‘Even when we choose to keep going, it is OK to admit to the limitations of our humanity’

NEW YORK — Today, faith leaders and social justice advocates gathered to honor Melissa Harris-Perry, James Perry, Lekha Singh, Sarah Kureshi, Yara Allen, Wanda Bryant Hope, and Mamie Kanfer Stewart at the 20th annual Auburn Seminary Lives of Commitment Awards.

Auburn President the Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson hosted the event, where honorees were recognized for their work to bridge divides, build community, pursue justice and heal the world. This year’s ceremony marked 20 years of honoring diverse leaders and celebrating their voices in the movement for peace and justice. As the vital contributions and leadership of women often continue to go unacknowledged, Auburn’s Lives of Commitment Awards hold up the work and accomplishments of these critical change-makers.

“Today, we celebrate leaders working across faith lines to bring people together and heal what divides us,” said the Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson.” Auburn’s Lives of Commitment Awards honorees embody resilience in the face of these obstacles; they dust themselves off and keep charting a steady course toward justice.”

Melissa Harris-Perry was honored alongside her husband James Perry, a long-time advocate for employment opportunities, affordable housing, voting rights and food security. Other honorees included human rights advocates, organizers and activists, and high-profile leaders working for corporate diversity and social responsibility.

The theme of this year’s awards was resilience. When asked what resilience means to her, Harris-Perry said, “This is a hard question for me right now in the midst of personal pain and professional loss. I know the right answer is supposed to be about willingness to press on despite stumbling, to find meaning in hardship and to draw lessons from failure. But in this moment it feels important to acknowledge that pain, wounds and scars are real and that — even when we choose to keep going — it is OK to admit to the limitations of our humanity.”

Honorees shared remarks on the work of peace and justice, resilience in the face of hardship, and Auburn’s longstanding commitment to connecting leaders of faith and moral courage.


“Auburn has long insisted that faith-based public deliberation need not be exclusionary. Indeed, Auburn has modeled inclusion, diversity and deep engagement as hallmarks of meaningful, faith-filled, public deliberation. I am deeply honored that an institution with such a clear commitment to establishing cross-cultural and interfaith alliances has chosen to recognize my work.” Melissa Harris-Perry, director, Anna Julia Cooper Center, and Maya Angelou Presidential Chair, Wake Forest University.

“In recent years, when I have turned to faith for answers, I have relied on the writings or advice of a few inspiring thinkers. These faith leaders have a few common links. They see social justice and moral courage strongly related to, if not rooted in, faith. They always believe love and optimism will triumph. And, initially unbeknownst to me, they are all linked to Auburn Seminary. To receive recognition from an institution that is a foundation for those to whom I look for inspiration is quite humbling.” James Perry, president and CEO, Winston-Salem Urban League.

“Auburn truly honors women who have committed their lives to help others and I am honored to be in their company.” Lekha Singh, human rights activist, artist and Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker.

“In a depressing time in our history where some are spewing hate and dividing Americans along religious and ethnic lines, Auburn has been committed to uplifting leaders and communities, healing wounds and bridging the divides. I am excited to partner with Auburn to plant some seeds of hope and love in our world.” Sarah Kureshi, assistant professor of family medicine, Georgetown University School of Medicine, and health care provider with the Physicians for Human Rights Asylum Network.

“I am honored to be recognized by Auburn Seminary whose focus on upholding civic responsibility and helping others closely echoes the commitments in our Johnson & Johnson Credo and my work in advancing diversity and inclusion to help us care for the world, one person at a time.” Wanda Bryant Hope, chief diversity officer, Johnson & Johnson.

“Auburn is doing vital work to strengthen the voices of faith leaders to pursue justice. I love being part of a community that collectively sees how our different faiths can bring us together to create a more just world. I am honored to receive this award and be listed among the incredible women who have received it in prior years. These women have inspired me, led our communities, businesses and culture, and changed the world.” Mamie Kanfer Stewart, innovator of Jewish Life and founder and CEO, Meeteor.

“It’s an honor when my comrades, who themselves are actively engaged in the struggle to hold humanity to a higher call, take the time to recognize the many gifts that others bring to this effort. I respect the work of Auburn Seminary and the amazing people who carry it out! To know that they have reciprocated this respect with respect leaves me proud, honored and humbled.” Yara Allen, theo-musicologist for the Forward Together Moral Movement.


Melissa Harris-Perry is the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair and director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University. She is the former host of MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry.

James Perry is president and CEO of the Winston-Salem Urban League. He served for 10 years of the chief executive officer of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.

Lekha Singh is a human rights activist, artist and Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker.

Wanda Bryant Hope is chief diversity officer at Johnson & Johnson.

Sarah Kureshi is a family medicine physician and an assistant professor of family medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has also been a health care provider with the Physicians for Human Rights Asylum Network.

Yara Allen is a theo-musicologist, spoken word artist, songwriter, organizer and activist. She currently serves as the director of cultural arts for Moral Political Organizing Leadership Institute.

Mamie Kanfer Stewart is founder and CEO of Meeteor.


Auburn Seminary identifies and strengthens leaders — from the pulpit to the public square — to build communities, bridge divides, pursue justice and heal the world.

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