“We, not the politicians, have the answer to peace in the world” said, Rev. Dr. Ken Bensen. “Religious communities must take back the moral leadership in the world which they have abdicated, and this organization has the answer.” Bensen was addressing the OMNIA Institute’s Annual Meeting in Chicago on December 2nd, at which OMNIA announced the establishment of the Ken Bensen Award for Excellence in Contextual Leadership.
The new award honors a lifetime of leadership achievement in social justice and community transformation in the fight against extremism. Ken Bensen served for six years as a member of OMNIA’s board of directors, and for the last three years as its chairperson at a time when the organization underwent a massive transition, from the Chicago-based Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE) to an international organization, the OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership.
Throughout his lifetime Ken Bensen has demonstrated excellence in leadership. He has served as an Elder in the United Methodist Church, and as the President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Michigan, an entity that he helped grow from its infancy into a powerful volunteer organization, focused on community transformation, with more than sixty affiliates. Ken Bensen’s name has become synonymous with home and community building, not just in the State of Michigan and throughout the United States but in countries such as Vietnam and Armenia where he spearheaded Habitat projects.
Denise Stein, OMNIA advisor and President of Art of Leadership Advisors, introduced the award by speaking of Ken Bensen’s lifetime achievement as the living embodiment of the principles contained in Bensen’s favorite Bible verse: Matthew 25:40, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Stein noted that Ken Bensen has built more than 5000 houses in Michigan and was responsible for bringing President Jimmy Carter to the Habitat Family. OMNIA Board member Wes Granstrom remarked that “Ken Bensen is a walking ministry. Whether speaking with the former president of the United States, or an employee at the local Walmart where he goes for walks, Ken Bensen relates to everyone with equal respect and grace.”
Ken Bensen will continue to be a contextual leader. “I live on the border,” he said, “where 300 people each year die in the desert just outside of our city because the border patrol shoots holes in the water containers that church people put there, intended for those who have to walk for several days in 115-degree heat. OMNIA leaders were there just last month learning the stories of the migrants and the utter cruelty with which our government deals with immigrants. Changing the way we think about these things is critical, and this is what OMNIA does so effectively.”
The Ken Bensen Award for Excellence in Contextual Leadership will be given annually to the OMNIA leader who has made the greatest impact in his or her community, working towards a more just world by “Listening to, learning from, and living in deep solidarity with those in the margins.” OMNIA expects to raise sufficient funds to increase its recognition and build its prestige.
In closing remarks, OMNIA President Shanta Premawardhana named Rev. Dr. Kenneth W. Bensen the inaugural recipient of the Ken Bensen Award for Excellence in Contextual Leadership.