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The Quintessential Dr. Steven Funk

The year was 2005, the place, Yale University, and the month, October. The cameras came flashing and the microphones were popping, all for an answer..

By Hauwa Ibrahim

The year was 2005, the place, Yale University, and the month, October. The cameras came flashing and the microphones were popping, all for an answer to the question, “What does the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought” mean to you? That question directed to me had one answer. I really didn’t understand what was going on. It was only later I learned that the European Parliament had awarded me the Sakharov Prize named after Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov (1921-1989). Earlier in 1988, the European Parliament had named its (Noble Peace Prize) after Mr. Andrei Sakharov. The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, commonly known as the Sakharov Prize, is an honorary award for individuals or groups who have dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights and freedom of thought. Noble Peace Prize recipients are defenders of human rights and dignity globally. The prize named after Sakharov was just awarded to me for my work defending women sentenced to death by stoning and children sentenced to have their limbs amputated for stealing under “a newly promulgated” Shariah Penal code law in 12 States of Northern Nigeria in 1999. I humbly joined the company of the first recipient of the prize, Mr. Nelson Mandela (1988), who later became the President of South Africa and the United Nations General Secretary, Mr. Kofi Anan (2003) —  indeed, an extraordinary achievement.

The Yale University Bulletin & Calendar announced this news on its front page, “Current World Fellow Hauwa Ibrahim has won the European Parliament’s top human rights award” dated November 4th 2005, giving the work I do a lot of publicity. It was after this publication that someone at Yale University got in touch with me asking if I could come speak about the case in South Africa at the Global Leadership Conference, Cape Town, 2006. He said the organization was Young Presidents Organization (YPO). It was through this encounter that I met Dr. Steven Funk (Steve), his wife and his newborn child on a bus, while visiting the Table Mountain in South Africa. We struck up a conversation about his older children, whom he said will be visiting Kenya (their first time in Africa) to Volunteer with an American lady doing some good work for humanity. I offered him Nigeria. He hesitated, but later sent his two children and two of their friends. It was one awesome experience for the young men and me. One that is still the talk of the village, is the story of  how one of the boys  “passed out” when he saw in real life the slaughter of a cow in honor of his birthday during our stay in my village in Nigeria. 

This visit was the beginning of a lasting friendship. Writing this, I feel both melancholic and nostalgic. Steve  became my “go to person” – anytime, anyhow, for advice and help, he has always been there for me. In times of dire need, he comes through. We laughed and had fun, one recent time in May 2023 in Washington DC. (We both happened to be in the same city and our hotels were just a few minutes apart). We took a long walk to enjoy the famous Washington, DC Cherry Blossoms. My special lifetime friend, Steve has remained in my life ever since. Even though thousands of miles away, I feel his friendship and his deep wisdom. He always leaves a piece of it with me, anytime we’ve met.

As John P. Read eloquently wrote on “Friend”–

“F- Friends (Steve is) the most precious gifts
R- Rare and hard to find (Steve)
I-  Invisible when life is good and also when challenges come (Steve)
E- Ever near when my sun doesn’t shine (Steve)
N- Nothing is ever too much (For Steve) to do
D- Distance never too far (for Steve) and standing by my side when my dreams have passed by.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Steve Funk has gone far and beyond to introduce me to Jen and Tom Hillman when he knew I was going to be at St. Louis University, Missouri to teach in the fall of 2016. Jen, Tom and Roger Goldman (the Dean of the law school) welcomed my sons and I; we didn’t feel like strangers. While at Harvard University from 2008 to 2013, researching, teaching and writing, Steve was one of my biggest advocates at the Harvard Divinity School. One time, as providence will have it, we were in Dubai about the same time, January 2019. He invited me to a top-notch dinner, exposing me to the “who’s who in Dubai”—never shying from introducing me to his circle of the influencers and game changing Chief Executive Officers of Multi and transnational companies.

I can’t imagine having gained more from one single person, in this way, my entire life. But my dear quintessential Steve is much more. He has assisted my sons and I in so many ways. Steve is a great listener; his fountain of wisdom freely follows when I needed his counsel.

Once Steve came to my rescue financially at a time of crisis with little notice and few questions, relieving me of great stress and restoring my peace of mind – for which I am forever grateful.

I now write with a very light heart but want to draw on three things— making a difference in the lives of people across the world; I believe that is my mission in life. I had hoped dividends  from investments would allow me to do my mission without seeking help or venturing into fund raising, with no skill set, Steve understood and help me think strategically. Since 2019, we have collaborated with the University of Rome, Italy and  Wellesley College (WCW), MA, USA, on one of the projects of the Peace Institute:  Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) Camps. Students from these colleges have collaborated and traveled to Nigeria to spend 4-6 weeks. This was possible with financial support and volunteer contributions. The Steam Camps have impacted over 3,000 pupils and over 200 schools. These efforts will not be possible without the indirect, silent support of Dr. Steven Funk. I attribute changing the life of these pupils to him.

Secondly, Steve never knew me, and he took a bet on me. How many people do that today? I call him quintessential, because it does take a superhero like him, taking me on his shoulder and pushing me on—Steve is a white, rich American with exceptional influence, yet he came down so low to the level of a village girl that became educated accidentally –a rare gem, that the world needs more of. Thirdly, as we,  in the United States, Nigeria and countries around the globe see ourselves as Heather Maggie said “The Sum of all of us”, Steve stands tall. He exemplifies that with a little help, in kind and some other ways, we all are one and able to ensure that if the next person is good, I am as well. I here present to you the one and only Consequential Dr. Steven Funk and my abiding love and respect to him and his family.

When I thought Dr. Steven Funk was awesome, it turned out he is much more—more than enough in all the positive connotation of the words. I was preparing to attend a friend’s daughter’s wedding (Rev. Isaac Laudarji) in Vancouver, Canada, May 2023. When I mentioned to Steve I would be in Vancouver for two days—He immediately responded that I should stay at his house and asked to of his staff to take care of the “Wonderful lady”.—It meant I had a driver pick me up at the Vancouver International airport and take me to Steve’s splendid mansion with absolute royalty; as well as driving me back to a further smaller airport at 3 am in the morning. His generosity is unparalleled and his simplicity in real life makes me ask— What have I done in this world, that the Almighty God, blessed me with such a man in my life. I believe the more I know him, the more I love him; the best is yet to come.

Steve, my ray of light; you made my life brighter. You kept me away from despair. Indeed, I believe the good lord brough you into life for a reason. I am the luckiest. This article is to convey a message that is, “…whatsoever soweth will also reap.” Let us always sow good seeds everyday– seeds of faith, love, wisdom, trust and to walk upright, having faith in things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot yet see.

Happy Father’s Day, to an amazing father to Nathan, Morgan, Trevor, Bennett and Caroline.

Hauwa Ibrahim Esq.

March 14th 2024

Writings from, Dubai/London/USA/Boston & Milan  

Hauwa Ibrahim, is the President of The Peace Institute, an internationally known human rights lawyer, author and mother who was awarded the Sakharov prize in 2005. she was a prosecutor at the Ministry of Justice in Bauchi State. Hauwa has taught at Harvard University, University of Rome, University of Bocconi, Milan and over a dozen Universities around the World. She has given speeches in over 30 cities globally as well as a TEDx talk at the Hague.