By Nazarene Harris
NBA Thunder player, Enes Kanter is American, Turkish and an Oklahoman, but not necessarily in that order.
“The minute I was traded here,” Kanter said to a crowd of nearly 350 at the Friendship Dinner hosted by Oklahoma’s Dialogue Institute, “it felt like home. In airports and grocery stores people came up to me and welcomed me to Oklahoma. They said they were happy I was here. They wanted a picture with me. They’d wish me good luck at our games. I can’t help it; I love Oklahoma. This is my home.”
Kanter and his recently founded Light Foundation, which aims to help children in need, were honored with the Humanitarian of the Year Award by The Dialogue Institute at the March 30 Friendship Dinner. This was the thirteenth annual evening gala for the organization.
Other honorees for the gala, held at the Embassy Suites Hotel near the OU Health Sciences Center, included Oklahoma City University President, Robert Henry, who received The Lifetime Achievement Award and Republic Bank & Trust Senior Vice President and philanthropist, Mary Blankenship Pointer, who received the Global Vision Award.
“Global vision is the ability to see the world the way it can be and to work hard to make the vision a reality,” Pointer said in her acceptance speech. “Everyone in this room tonight deserves this award. I could stand here all night and talk about the great work that each of you are involved with. In the interest of time, I will tell you about a few people.”
Pointer continued her speech by describing how in Kanter’s free time he visits homeless shelters, children’s hospitals and food banks and how Henry’s vision to create a diverse student population has resulted in a better understanding of current world issues held by Oklahoma’s youth.
It is that same understanding that the world is currently in dire need of, Reverend Dirk Ficca — interfaith activist, and keynote speaker – told the crowd.
“A misunderstanding of others and extremism go hand in hand,” Ficca said to the crowd. “So the antidote to extremism and misunderstanding isn’t further extremism and misunderstanding; it’s exactly what we were brought here for tonight; it is dialogue. It is getting to know your neighbor; it is loving your neighbor.”
The Dialogue Institute was originally created in Turkey to unite the country’s different religions and cultural communities. The institute was brought to the United States and established in Houston in 2002. Today there are several branches of the institute throughout the United States with one in Oklahoma City and one in Tulsa.
“The first dinner was held in Turkey,” Oklahoma City Dialogue Institute President, Kadir Akkus said. “Our goal is to continue the tradition of encouraging dialogue. The friendships that are developed at the dinner and many of our other events; the conversations that are started, our hope is that they continue outside of the parameters of our organization and make a difference within our communities.”
Other events that the institute hosts include interfaith panels where leaders from all three Abrahamic faiths – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – gather to discuss current world and community issues, Lunch and Learn networking events, Thanksgiving dinners and volunteer opportunities. To learn more about the Dialogue Institute of Oklahoma City visit www.dialogueok.org.
Note: Nazarene Iqbal Harris, a print, on-air and online reporter, is a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism.