Diplomatic Pouch / March 19, 2015
By Larry Luxner
Miami and Buenos Aires. Baltimore and Bremerhaven, Germany. Seattle and faraway Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The Alabama port of Mobile and Cuba’s capital city, Havana.
These are but a few of the 2,100 U.S. “sister cities” and other partnerships in 145 countries linked by friendship and civic pride — a concept joyously celebrated March 10 during Sister Cities International’s 2015 Diplomatic Gala.
Hundreds of local, state, national and foreign dignitaries attended the extravaganza, held at the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and co-sponsored by a dozen or entities including The Washington Diplomat. Among the participants were no less than 50 members of the D.C. diplomatic corps representing nations from Azerbaijan to Zambia and many countries in between — including Barbados, Lesotho, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Tajikistan.
“We are honored to have so many influential people with us this evening to celebrate the work that sister city programs do to further the mission of Peace Through People,” said SCI’s president and CEO, Mary D. Kane. “For nearly 60 years, Sister Cities International has strived to be an organization that could be the hub of peace and prosperity by creating bonds between people from different cities around the world.”
Among the “influential people” at SCI’s gala was Sen. Richard G. Lugar, one of two winners of this year’s Congressional Diplomatic Leadership Award.
Lugar, 82, is a fifth-generation Hoosier who was twice elected mayor of Indianapolis and went on to spend 36 years in the U.S. Senate. He retired in January 2013 as the longest-serving congressman in Indiana history. Through the Washington-based Lugar Center, the former lawmaker remains a prominent voice on issues like nuclear nonproliferation, global food security, energy independence, NATO expansion and immigraton reform.
“I had never traveled outside the U.S. before being selected as a Rhodes scholar to go to England. The parameters of my own imagination expanded enormously as I gained a sense of how large this world is, and how many opportunities one can embrace,” Lugar told attendees.
“Too many Americans have never had this experience, and I appreciate what Sister Cities International has done to foster youth exchanges, to develop and enhance scholarships so a greater number of young Americans can study abroad,” Lugar said, recalling how in 2002, he and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts helped establish the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study Abroad (YES) program for U.S. high-school students.
“While abroad, students live with a host family, attend a local high school and aspire to have leadership skills,” he said. “The making of peace is a continuing process that must go on so long as our civilizations last. I applaud your wonderful contributions to peace and vibrancy of the communities represented here tonight.”
The other Congressional Diplomatic Leadership Award winner was James P. Moran, the mayor of Alexandria, Va., from 1985 to 1990 who went on to serve Virginia’s 8th Congressional District from 1991 until his retirement earlier this year.
Also honored at the SCI gala was Aldona Zofia Wos, the Polish-born former U.S. ambassador to Estonia who received the Diplomatic Leadership Award. The daughter of a Nazi concentration camp survivor, Wos earned her degree at the Warsaw Medical Academy and went on to complete a residency in pulmonary medicine in New York. In 2008, following her tour of duty, she was presented with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
Vin Newton Martin, who served for 16 years as Jamaica’s honorary consul in Atlanta before his death in July 2014, was posthumously given the Global Citizen Diplomat Award. Martin’s central role in the life of Atlanta’s Jamaican community provided the driving force behind the Atlanta-Montego Bay Sister Cities Health Mission for 21 years; Martin’s son, Corey, accepted the award on his father’s behalf.
In addition, Washington’s own D.C. United — one of the nation’s most successful professional soccer teams — won SCI’s Corporate Diplomacy Award, while the Maryland Army National Guard was given the Excellence in Diplomacy Award.
SCI, founded by President Eisenhower in 1956, is a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit group that serves as the national membership organization for individual sister cities, counties and states across the nation. The network unites tens of thousands of citizen diplomats in 545 communities. For more information, visit www.sistercities.org.