What drives people to solidarity: NYC hosts Aurora dialogues

15:45 • 05.03.18



The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, in partnership with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, hosted distinguished members of the humanitarian community to explore the drivers of human solidarity during the first Aurora Dialogues event in New York City. The event, titled “Solidarity Beyond Borders: Stepping Up When Others Step Back,” focused on what moves people to risk their lives and stand up for others in challenging situations.


The Dialogues began with opening remarks from Aurora Humanitarian Initiative co-founder Vartan Gregorian and National September 11 Memorial & Museum President and CEO Alice Greenwald who spoke about how celebrating stories of heroism is essential for driving action.


Their remarks were followed by a keynote presentation from Dr Philip Zimbardo, famed psychologist, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, and Founder and President of the Heroic Imagination Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting heroism in everyday life. The address focused on the psychological reasoning and response to heroism, highlighting the ways in which people can learn to step up while others step back.


“Moral courage is at the core of heroism, not bravery,” said Dr Philip Zimbardo. “Between good intentions and good actions, there are always obstacles to overcome. However, we can all learn to be wise and effective heroes. When you do something positive and others notice, there will be a ripple effect.”


In a panel discussion moderated by Washington Post Columnist David Ignatius, 2016 Aurora Prize Laureate Marguerite “Maggy” Barankitse spoke about her own experience facing and overcoming adversity. When the Burundian civil war broke out, Maggy, a Tutsi, tried to hide 72 of her closest Hutu neighbors to keep them safe from persecution. They were discovered and executed as Maggy was forced to watch. Following this gruesome incident, she decided to act and has since saved roughly 30,000 children as the founder of Maison Shalom, a children’s home and support center, and treated more than 80,000 patients by founding the REMA Hospital in 2008.


The panel also featured Lieutenant Bill Keegan, Retired Port Authority Police Department Lieutenant, Special Ops, who was Night Operations Commander of the World Trade Center Rescue/Recovery Teams at Ground Zero from September 11, 2001 until the end of the recovery, which was marked on May 30, 2002 when the last steel column from the original World Trade Center was ceremoniously removed. He spoke about the arduous task of recovering the victims and sustaining the recovery teams’ mission of compassion and selflessness. Lieutenant Keegan is now the Founder and President of HEART 9/11 (Healing Emergency Aid Response Team), working to respond to disasters, rebuild community centers in hard-hit areas and bolster recovery efforts by nurturing resiliency for individuals, families and communities. Human rights activist and ENOUGH Project Founding Director, John Prendergast, joined the panel to discuss how bystanders can become upstanders in the face of adversity to garner solidarity for the causes that they champion.


“Maggy and Lieutenant Bill Keegan embody courage and the incredible journey of those who have overcome adversity. In Maggy’s case, after being saved herself, she went on to save thousands of others. As John Prendergast noted, it is crucial that we not only highlight voices like theirs, but also the thousands of others still being persecuted as well as crushed by poverty, in order to bring about real change,” said Vartan Gregorian, co-founder of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative and President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. “We are honored to partner with The National September 11 Memorial & Museum to draw attention to these survivors’ personal stories and to highlight the importance of generosity. The impact of the cycle of giving is one of the core values of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative. These heroes have risked their lives. At the very least, the rest of us can give our support to them and their causes so that the spirit of generosity and human values are upheld.”


“We are honored to join the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative in promoting the generosity of the human spirit, as this is also a positive legacy of the September 11, 2001 attacks,” 9/11 Memorial & Museum President Alice M. Greenwald said. “The Museum tells stories of courage and resilience, of strangers helping one another, and of first responders who risked their lives to save others. These stories should be celebrated, and demonstrate that, when the times require, human decency will ultimately triumph over human depravity.”  


Following New York, the next Aurora Dialogues will take place in Moscow this April leading up to the annual Aurora Dialogues in Yerevan this June as part of a weekend of events culminating in the presentation of the 2018 Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity – a $1 million award honoring those who risk themselves for the benefit of others.





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