Humanitarian Community Gathers to Discuss What Drives People to Stand Up in the Face of Adversity

Dr. Philip Zimbardo, Dr. Vartan Gregorian, Alice Greenwald, John Prendergast, and others, explored the topic during event at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum

New York City, March 2, 2018 – 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 extreme 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 experience, she founded Maison Shalom, a children’s home and support center, and took action to save 30,000 children, 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. That 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 H.E.A.R.T. 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 $1.1 million award created on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and in gratitude to their saviors.

About the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative

Founded on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and in gratitude to their saviors, the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative seeks to empower modern-day saviors to offer life and hope to those in urgent need of basic humanitarian aid anywhere in the world and thus continue the cycle of giving internationally. The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative is Gratitude in Action. It is an eight-year commitment (2015 to 2023, in remembrance of the eight years of the Armenian Genocide 1915-1923) to support people and promote global projects that tackle the needs of the most helpless and destitute and do so at great risk. This is achieved through the Initiative’s various programs: The Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, the Aurora Dialogues, the Aurora Humanitarian Index, the Gratitude Projects and the 100 LIVES Initiative. The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative is the vision of philanthropists Vartan Gregorian, Noubar Afeyan and Ruben Vardanyan who have been joined by more than two hundred new supporters and partners. The Initiative welcomes all who embrace a commitment to our shared humanity.

The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative is represented by three organizations – Aurora Humanitarian Initiative Foundation, Inc. (New York, USA), the 100 Lives Foundation (Geneva, Switzerland) and the IDeA Foundation (Yerevan, Armenia).

Further information is available at

About the National September 11 Memorial and Museum

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is the nonprofit organization that oversees operations for the 9/11 Memorial and 9/11 Memorial Museum. Located on eight of the 16 acres of the World Trade Center site, the Memorial and Museum remember and honor the 2,983 people who were killed in the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. The Memorial plaza design consists of two reflecting pools formed in the footprints of the original Twin Towers surrounded by swamp white oak trees. The Museum displays more than 900 personal and monumental objects while its collection includes more than 60,000 items that present intimate stories of loss, compassion, reckoning and recovery linked to the events of 9/11 and the aftermath. The Museum also explores the global impact of 9/11 and its continuing significance through education programs, public programs, live talks and film features that cover contemporary topics designed for diverse audiences. For more information or to reserve a ticket to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, please visit



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