The organization gave Ali the Gerda Haas Award for Excellence, citing "his ongoing multi-faceted work in Maine fostering meaningful dialogue across cultural, ethnic, socioeconomic and faith-based barriers."
In 2013, Ali, a policy associate for the Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy at USM's Muskie School of Public Service, became the first African-born Muslim American to be elected to public office in Maine. He began on Portland's Board of Public Education. In 2016, he was elected to an at-large seat on the Portland City Council. He is the founder and executive director of the Maine Interfaith Youth Alliance and co-founded the King Fellows, a Portland-based youth group dedicated to creating youth leadership and civic engagement based on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Pious has such an amazing ability to connect people across boundaries," said Becca Matusovich, who works with Ali in the Cutler center.. "We are thrilled to see him receiving this well-deserved recognition for the many ways in which he engages community members from all walks of life in building bridges and improving community life for all."
The center also recognized Jalali, who serves on the faculty of the USM Honors Program. Jalali is a writer and refugee activist. As a board director of Amnesty International, he led delegations to refugee camps in Turkey and Bosnia. In 1992, he visited the White House as part of a national delegation to discuss the plight of Kurdish refugees fleeing Iraq.
Jalali wrote the foreword to "New Mainers," a book on immigrant's experiences in Maine. His children's book, "Moon Watchers," received a Skipping Stones Honor Award. He also authored, "Homesick Mosque," a collection of short stories about Muslim immigrants in post-9/11 America.