The Spirit of Columbus Award was given in memory of Jerrie Mock to Michelle Alexander, author and civil rights activist.

You have probably heard about the spirit haunting the headquarters of the Columbus Foundation in the former Governor's Mansion on E. Broad Street.

It definitely exists, but the prevalent spirit is not the apparition cited by ghost-hunting websites and publications. It's much more powerful than that.

A given year might produce multiple sightings of the spirit being carefully nurtured by the foundation under the guidance of President and CEO Douglas Kridler.

The most recent appearance was in the annual April 17 summoning of the essence of late Columbus aviatrix Jerrie Mock as the 2017 Spirit of Columbus Award was presented to legal scholar, civil rights advocate and nationally acclaimed author Michelle Alexander. The foundation describes the award as recognizing individuals who exhibit “exemplary community spirit through their accomplishments.”

Alexander's groundbreaking 2010 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, has “ignited a national movement that is inspiring organizations and individuals to take constructive action on criminal justice reform,” according to Kridler's announcement of the award. “Her call for love and understanding in the face of systemic bias is hugely inspiring, and we are proud she and her family call Columbus home.”

Named for the single-engine Cessna that Mock flew solo around the world in 1964, the Spirit of Columbus Award was created in 2013. The Columbus Foundation presented the first award that year to Mock, who died at 88 in 2014. The prize includes a bronze miniature “Jerrie” statuette and a $5,000 grant for the nonprofit of the recipient's choice.

“Jerries” have also been presented—some years there is more than one—to ice cream entrepreneur extraordinaire Jeni Britton Bauer; Harmony Project founder and creative director David Brown; the late, longtime president of the Columbus College of Art and Design Denny Griffith; former Mayor Michael Coleman; and the powerful duo behind the South Side redevelopment known as the Reeb Avenue Center, Tanny Crane and Jane Grote Abell.

The manifestation of community spirit is evident as much in the annual Spirit of Columbus events themselves as in the actual presentation of the award. Those invited to the celebration are a curated collection of about 130 diverse community leaders from business, nonprofits, government and the arts.

Following a reception and award presentation, Kridler encourages guests to enjoy dinner next to someone they don't know, building even more community spirit at a table almost half the length of a football field. Ask Archie Griffin if you don't believe the table could be so long; he was at this year's commemoration of Mock's triumphant landing in Columbus that made her the first woman to fly solo around the world.

This month the foundation continues its spirit of community-building as convener of the Big Table, a May 17 event encouraging as many as 5,000 central Ohio residents to take part in at least 500 conversations across the region to identify challenges we face and strengths that can be summoned to create a promising future. That's how many participated in the first Big Table last Aug. 30.

In February, the foundation celebrated central Ohio's national No. 1 rankings from the past year and teamed with nonprofit connector Besa to raise volunteer spirits by launching “Columbus Kindness Month.”

Spirit watchers from local nonprofits are hoping for one more big sighting in 2017: another rendition of the foundation's Big Give. Sponsored every two years since 2011, it's a 24-hour giving marathon with some matching funds for hundreds of central Ohio nonprofits. The spirit of generosity generated by the Big Give has created legions of believers—raising more than $15 million in 2015 alone. It raised $10.6 million in 2013 and more than $8.5 million in 2011.

Do you need any more evidence that the energy swirling around the old Governor's Mansion is indeed magical?