Last year, AMEU’s Board of Directors launched a new tradition to honor the decades of service of its emeritus Executive Director, John Mahoney: The AMEU/John F. and Sharon Mahoney Award for Service award is announced at the Fall meeting of AMEU’s Board and will be posted online at AMEU.org.
Candidates for the award are drawn from all walks, and selection is made by a committee comprised of Board members, staff, and representatives of sister organizations. Committee membership rotates annually, as do the selection criteria used to identify an awardee. (Last year’s criteria included digital wherewithal and intersectionality, among several other considerations.) The award is generously funded by AMEU’s Board and is established in perpetuity.
Last year’s inaugural awardee was Shirien Creates, an artist whose work touched so many Americans in the tumultuous wake of George Floyd’s murder. We’re pleased to remind you of a few of her iconic images, along with a brief description of her journey, in her words:
“I was born in Chicago and grew up in a working-class neighborhood. I come from a Palestinian refugee family. Early on, I had a sense of what injustice and racism looked like through my own lived experiences here as a kid of color. But the systemic racism and discrimination was inter- generational: my family experienced it in Palestine when they were forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands; in Jordan when they were treated second-class citizens as refugees; and in the U.S. for being immigrants, Arabs, and Muslims.
Learning all of this growing up really opened up my eyes to systemic racism and injustice early on, and how it functions in the U.S. and abroad. I became involved in and vocal about many causes I care about: Palestinian liberation, labor rights, trans rights, Black racial justice, and more. While each struggle is unique and has its own nuances, we don’t face oppression within our own bubble—it’s systemic and it’s connected. Classism, racism, colonialism and patriarchy are systems that are tightly woven together in this country and abroad. The more we connect the dots and unite, the stronger we will be together.
This is the type of intersectional understanding I apply to my community organizing and in my art. That’s why I don’t just make art for Palestine or organize only on Palestine. I also want to bring together and uplift other liberation movements because I see myself as part of a wider community of people demanding justice and demanding a better world on all fronts. Because our struggles are so intertwined, we really can’t do this without one another. As Maya Angelou says, “The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free.” And that phrase is something I think about every single day.
On the Memorial Portraits: I created the portraits for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others to raise awareness of what happened to them without sharing the triggering videos or photos of their murders. I hoped to still draw attention to the anti-Black racism that ripped them away from their families and communities, but in a way that celebrates and honors their lives. Throughout history, we have seen victims of anti-Black violence demonized in the media as some kind of justification for their murders. Before the 2020 uprisings, we have seen a continuous effort to justify murder of Black lives, as with Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and others. I wanted to challenge it by creating something soft and loving for George, Breonna and Ahmaud. I wanted to preserve their beauty and dignity in the face of the anti-Black violence. I used bright colors and delicate florals—features we rarely come across in portrayals of Black men in particular. I use pastel to create a dreamy and calming feel, and combine bold, vibrant colors to uplift and inspire the viewer to take action. Flowers symbolize life and growth, in defiance of systemic violence and oppression. As a Palestinian, I understand that demonization all too well. I created the memorial portrait for Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh because I wanted to honor her and help others raise awareness about her murder, again, without sharing triggering photos or videos. The poppies are flowers I use specifically for my Palestinian memorial portraits, because in Palestine, poppies are a symbol of hope and resistance, and they honor those who lost their lives in the struggle. For decades, Shireen was known, loved, and trusted for her courageous reporting and raising awareness of what was happening in Palestine.
The murder of Shireen, like the murders of George, Breonna, and Ahmaud, will never be forgotten. They all lost their lives to violent systems of oppression. May we continue to uplift their memories as we fight for a better world. May they all rest in power.”
The name of the 2023 Awardee will be announced on November 14, 2023. Stay tuned!
John and Sharon Mahoney continue to inspire the work at Americans for Middle East Understanding. AMEU’s Board of Directors celebrates them with the establishment of this annual award, and hopes the road will always rise up to meet them. For more information about the award, email: AMEUMahoneyAward@ameu.org.