Kevin Durant will be among honorees at Dialogue Institute Oklahoma City’s friendship dinner and awards ceremony on April 1. It is a nonprofit organization that was founded with the express purpose of furthering interfaith dialogue, especially in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
The award recipients are chosen based on criteria established by the institute, specifically individuals who “have dedicated themselves in their profession and service to society by generously contributing their time, energy, expertise, and financial resources.”
Executive Director Ersin Demirci said the awards dinners have taken place for more than 10 years and recognize people from diverse walks of life.
NBA all-star Durant, of the Oklahoma City Thunder, will receive the Philanthropy Award on behalf of his work with the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation. Other honorees are Kerry Pettingill, chief of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol; Imad Enchassi, a professor at Oklahoma City University; and Janienne Bella, CEO of the American Red Cross of Central and Western Oklahoma.
The keynote speaker for the evening is Charles Kimball, presidential professor and director of the religious studies program at the University of Oklahoma.
Kimball said the importance of interfaith understanding can’t be underestimated. To highlight his point, he referenced comments that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made during his speech for the launch of the Office of Faith- Based Community Initiatives in August of 2013.
During the speech, Kerry said, “In fact, if I went back to college today, I think I would probably major in comparative religion because that’s how integrated it is in everything that we are working on and deciding and thinking about in life today.”
Calling Kerry’s remarks an “affirmation of the need for religious conversation and understanding,” Kimball said he would begin with obstacles like fear and ignorance, religious bias and the persecution of religious minorities.
“At the college level, we see significant movement in the area of religious understanding,” Kimball said. “But at the high school level and below, the fear and ignorance are still a problem.”
The lack of education contributes to the atmosphere of distrust and ignorance, Kimball said.
“It’s genuinely a problem to find teachers who are qualified to teach these programs thoughtfully,” Kimball said. “I acknowledge we have work to do still, but we are way ahead of where we were 15 years ago.”
All the honorees, including Durant, plan to attend, and all proceeds will benefit the Red Cross Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund. The dinner will be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Tower Hotel (formerly the Marriott), 3233 Northwest Expressway. Tickets are $100. To order tickets, or for more information, visit dialogueok.org.