President Robert Henry is being recognized for his work in the interfaith community.
Henry will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in the interfaith community from the Dialogue Institute of Oklahoma City at 5:30 p.m. March 30 at Embassy Suites, 741 N. Philips Ave.
Tickets are $100, and 25 percent per individual ticket will be donated to Positive Tomorrows, a local nonprofit that works in educating children in abusive households or homeless.
A night of recognition
The ceremony is to recognize “those that dedicated themselves in their profession and service to society by generously contributing their time, energy, expertise and financial resource,” according to the Dialogue Institute website, dialogueok.org.
“The Dialogue Institute is one of several community organizations that really tries to promote interfaith dialogue and has done a wonderful job and has brought many highly-respected people together,” Henry said.
The institute was established in 2002 by Turkish-Americans and their friends. They set out to address the question, “How can citizens of the world live in peace and harmony,” according to the institute’s website.
Henry is being honored by keynote speaker the Rev. Dirk Ficca, executive director of the Council for Parliament of the World’s Religions. The topic of Ficca’s speech will be “Antidotes to Extremism – The Art of Living Together.” Henry is being honored alongside Enes Kanter , Oklahoma City Thunder Basketball player and founder of the Light Foundation, who will accept the Humanitarian Award, and Mary B. Pointer, senior vice president of Republic Bank, who will accept the Global Vision Award.
A lifetime of achievements
Henry said standing up for varying faiths has become part of his nature.
“When people of good faith are under attack simply because of membership in a religious group or order, I think it’s unconstitutional and un-American as well as being a violation of my personal religious faith,” he said.
Henry has served the interfaith community for more than 30 years through his career in politics, law and civil service.
Before coming to OCU in 2010, Henry served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and as a chief judge for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
He represented the United States Judiciary at the Arab Judicial Forum, led by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and he served on the Council on Foreign Relations. Henry was nominated and succeeded by O’Connor on the board of directors for Foundation for the Future in Amman, Jordan.
In addition to that, Henry was awarded the Oklahoma Human Rights Award, the Myrtle Wreath Award for Humanitarianism from the Oklahoma City Chapter of Hadassah, and the Oklahoma Israel Exchange Award.
No to Hate
Out of all of Henry’s accomplishments, the most meaningful experience he said he’s had was with the “Say No to Hate” campaign, which he helped start in the late 1980s after Aryan supremacists desecrated a Jewish temple and synagogue by painting “take a shower, Jew” on it.
“It still horrifies me to recall that,” Henry said.
The same people painted “Christ Killer” on what they thought were Jewish tombstones, but they selected the tombstones based on Germanic names, and several of them actually had Christian crosses on them, meaning they weren’t Jewish at all.
“It showed me the connection between hatred and ignorance,” Henry said.
The leaders of the temple and the synagogue called Henry after this happened.
Henry said the “Say No to Hate” campaign was created to educate people about interfaith dialogue.
As part of a “Say No to Hate” mission, Henry recalled seeing Rabbi David Packman clean graffiti off a church with turpentine.
Henry asked him what he planned to do if it happened again. He said: “I’ll come back and clean it off again. I have a lot of turpentine.”
A faithful university
Henry praised OCU for its close relations with the interfaith community and its willingness to let rabbis teach.
Henry created the Islamic studies program in 2009 and chose the Imam Dr. Imad Enchassi to head it in 2012.
“Since I’ve been here at OCU, we’ve really done a lot of interfaith work, particularly with our Muslim friends because, frankly, they’re the ones who are under attack right now,” Henry said.
In addition to the Islamic studies program, there is also an Interfaith Prayer Room open 24 hours a day to students of all faiths. There is an opportunity for an interfaith studies minor, which was established in 2015.
Plans are in place to open an interfaith dorm in Smith Hall by Fall 2018. Henry has been instrumental in these changes.
Enchassi said he appreciates that Henry is present during interfaith conversations.
“His commitment is very refreshing considering the political atmosphere,” Enchassi said. “His approach to interfaith dialogue is not only needed for us to live in a tolerant society, but also to achieve peace.”
Henry said he will continue to speak at churches and other events about interfaith dialogue.
Lucas Freeman, political science and history freshman and member of the president’s leadership class, described Henry as personable.
“He’s an important man, but I wouldn’t use that to define him,” Freeman said.