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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2005, pages 56-58

Arab-American Activism

Arab Americans Give Back to Their Country

Arab-American teenagers in Detroit are giving back to this country as good citizens through service and volunteering (Photo Courtesy Access).

ON SEPT. 24, National Arab American Service Day, Arab American-based organizations in twelve U.S. cities partnered with other organizations to do service in a neighboring community. The National Arab American Service Day motto, “Serving Communities, Connecting People,” inspired Arab Americans around the country to do something special for someone else.

Each city organized a unique project, responding creatively to community needs. One of the goals of the Arab American community is to reach out and show the value of helping their neighbors. Through the common goal of community service, more than 500 Arab Americans and non-Arabs joined together in new partnerships and collaborations.

Volunteers, who wore National Arab American Service Day T-shirts, were asked about the event and had the opportunity to explain and demonstrate to people that Arab Americans are invested in this country and are giving back. Instead of being defined by the media, Arab Americans defined themselves as Americans, community members and volunteers. Volunteers around the country thanked the sponsoring organizations for providing the chance for them to give back to the community, and most have already committed to participating next year. A teenager in Detroit spoke for many volunteers when he asked, “So, what are we going to do for the project next year?”

In Detroit alone, more than 250 people from the entire Metro-Detroit area came out to paint lockers at a Detroit Middle School and revitalize the Mexicantown neighborhood. The day began with a rally and breakfast at Clark Park, a local park in Southwest Detroit. The volunteers then separated into their teams for service in Mexicantown and at Phoenix Academy. Many of the volunteers were high school students from Dearborn. The Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) Community Health Department also participated by providing free health screenings. In Flint, about 15 volunteers came out to work at a local food bank.

In Chicago, more than 40 volunteers with the Arab American Family Services gathered at a local shoe bank to sort and repair shoes being sent to the hurricane victims in the South. Volunteers who were also clients of the organization’s programs expressed gratitude at being given an opportunity to serve others.

At another Chicago site, the Arab American Action Network cleaned up the grounds of a hospice equipped to give comfort and medical care to small children with serious illnesses.

In Anaheim, CA, more than 70 volunteers gathered in several locations in Orange County. More than 1,475 boxes of food were packed at the Orange County Food Bank, while other volunteers cleaned up streets in the city of Pico Rivera as well as a local beach.

In San Francisco, community volunteers as well as members of the Network of Arab American Professionals (NAAP) worked at a food bank sorting food to be sent to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

In Cleveland, the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services partnered with the Malachi House, a hospice, the African American Women’s Wellness Walk, and the Ronald McDonald House, and brought out over 40 volunteers to address health issues in under-served communities. At a particularly heartwarming project, volunteers at the Ohio Youth Advocate Program spent one-on-one time with orphans reading books, playing basketball and doing crafts.

In Orlando, a full truckload of clothing and over $11,000 was raised for the Red Cross to send to hurricane victims.

In Brooklyn, over 50 volunteers participated with The Arab American Association of New York in projects that ran the gamut from a blood drive to park cleanup to sorting food at a food pantry. In addition, the Arab American Family Support Center partnered with the DA’s office to clean up Prospect Park, and 12 volunteers spread mulch, trimmed hedges and transplanted trees.

In Boston, 21 NAAP members went to the Greater Boston Food Bank and sorted food. By the end of the day 3,000 meals were packaged and ready to send to families. (Pictures of the Boston project can be viewed at <>.)

In Philadelphia, 25 volunteers served food at a soup kitchen/homeless shelter. The shelter has a training program to teach residents how to get into the catering business, and the Philadelphia Arab American Community Development Corporation taught people how to cook Arabic food. Volunteers also cleaned up and planted flowers and shrubs on the grounds of the shelter.

In Washington, DC, the Arab American Institute Foundation in partnership with NAAP participated in a walk called “Light the Night” to raise funds for leukemia and lymphoma research.

The National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC) is a network of Arab American social services organizations. One of the programs that ties the network together is the Arab American Resource Corps (ARC). This is an AmeriCorps program in which people dedicate a year of their lives to serve Arab-American communities through grassroots organizations. Their service provides help to recent immigrants.

ACCESS and NNAAC look forward to increasing participation in this annual event as more Arab-Americans and non-Arabs come together around a common vision of service and volunteerism. Together members of our communities will strengthen our cities, build civic participation in our neighborhoods and form a foundation for the future. For more information contact Hanan Khaznehkatbi, ACCESS outreach director, at <hkhaznehkatbi@accesscommunity>.

Jamie Kim

Peace Activists Welcomed in DC

Andy Shallal’s Busboys and Poets restaurant is a hit in Washington, DC (Staff photo M. Abdul Rahman).

Andy Shallal’s Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC is the talk of the town. The Arab-American activist told the Washington Report that since he opened his new restaurant just after Labor Day on 14th and V streets, NW, he has been interviewed by The Washington Post, Voice of America, Al Jazeera, the Washington Times, and the local City Paper, to name but a few. Testimonials even include this one on the Internet: “Web Bloggers Love Busboys and Poets.”

Asked why he thinks Busboys and Poets has become such a hit in such a short time, Shallal replied, “This space speaks to human sensibilities. Busboys and Poets will provide progressives the opportunity to meet and socialize in a wholesome and welcoming environment. Peace activists are welcomed here.”

Shallal was pleasantly surprised by the immediate success of his latest restaurant, “I’ve opened many restaurants,” said Shallal, but “this is the first time that people came in and got it right away.” Shallal thinks it is all about timing, with peace activists and the anti-war movement finally finding a voice in the nation. “People are fed up with the war in Iraq,” he noted.

Shallal’s views on the war are clear, in no small part because he knows firsthand the impact of the U.S. invasion on Iraq’s civilian population—several members of his family still live there. So, naturally, politics are front and center for Andy Shallal.“ I don’t expect the GOP to be here,” he said, “This is a place for progressive thinkers.”

September alone saw Cindy Sheehan, Harry Bellefonte, Ameri Barak, Maxine Waters, Damu Smith, Sonia Sanchez, Anthony Shadid, Ralph Nader, DC Poets Against the War, and Gael Murphy of CodePink. All have come to Busboys and Poets to mingle, eat, listen, recite poetry or just browse at the bookstore.

“My mission is to create a peace culture,” Shallal told the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. ”We have a peace deficit in this country. We cannot continue to resolve problems by bombing and waging invasions and wars.”

Wrote The Washington Post’s David Montgomery on Sept. 21, “Every movement needs a crossroads, a watering hole, an asylum.” Andy Shallal is glad to have his restaurant become that watering hole.

Mai Abdul Rahman

Arab-Americans of Chicago Meet to Address Domestic Violence

Social workers, clergymen, case managers and members of Chicago’s Arab-American community discuss finding a collective solution to domestic violence (Photo courtesy Leen Jaber).

Respected community members and workers in the Arab-American community gathered at the Arab-American Action Network (AAAN) office on the Southside of Chicago on Sept. 13 to discuss domestic violence, a pressing matter that seems to be growing within the burgeoning community. Although this issue has been addressed by various mosques and organizations throughout the community, it has never been dealt with on a larger scale: the entire community working together to eradicate the problem and to provide help for families facing such situations.

This first-of-a-kind meeting in Chicago’s Arab- and Muslim-American community functioned as an open forum. Social workers, clergymen, community activists, case managers and concerned community members throughout Chicago came together to discuss their various experiences with and solutions to domestic violence. The aim was to elicit suggestions not only for treatment, but awareness of the issue as well. In August 2005 alone, the AAAN received 65 calls regarding domestic disturbances, including 35 calls requesting direct services from the AAAN.

In order for families to undergo an effective healing process, social workers and case managers pointed out, the community’s social and religious engines must provide counseling for both victims and abusers. And, it was pointed out, in order to provide the best possible counseling for families, local domestic violence workers must be aware of the unique necessities of the Arab community and understand how that will affect the process. Domestic violence workers could be taught what may or may not work for the Arab community in a 40-hour training session.

Another suggestion for addressing domestic violence was for the community to develop a reconciliation committee, made up of social workers, community members and religious figures who would develop a protocol which could be referred to in instances of domestic violence.

Participants shared their concern that there aren’t nearly enough shelters for the volume of domestic occurrences in the Arab community. Other suggestions for treatment included building more trust between community families and mosques, and organizations designed to help the Arab community deal with social problems it faces. Attendees agreed that their community needs to empower immigrant women who may be too frightened to speak up, and also to lessen the impact that culture has on family violence, making men, women and children alike ashamed to get help or even just to admit their problem.

In addition to treating domestic violence, this community must raise basic public awareness of the issue. One reason many of these problems have gone untreated is the community’s lack of awareness of the problem. As a result, many people are in denial, or have no idea of how to deal with it. There were many suggestions as to how to spread awareness and to eliminate the cultural taboo associated with discussing family violence.

One of the most potentially effective suggestions for raising awareness was made by the Mosque Foundation, located in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. It proposed that the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago adopt domestic violence awareness month as an annual time of awareness in the month of November (as it already has been nationally). Strategies for raising awareness would include having the local imams discuss domestic violence in their sermons, town meetings adding the issue to their agendas, and holding meeting circles for education on this topic.

Another suggestion was to place at local Arab-owned businesses English- and Arabic-language pamphlets informing the public on what domestic violence actually is, along with emergency contacts and measures people can take when they find themselves faced with that situation. Educational campaigns could inform the public of their rights and the laws associated with domestic violence. This could be accomplished through meetings, distribution of print material, and even forums where people could feel safe to express their concerns and ask questions.

The main consensus reached at the two-hour meeting was that there needs to be a place where people can feel comfortable and safe discussing domestic violence. Another meeting is set to take place this winter in order to discuss program details and their implementation.

Leen Jaber

Third Annual NAAP Conference

Filmmaker Jackie Salloum and comedienne Maysoon Zayid (Staff photo M. Horton).

The Network of Arab American Professionals (NAAP) held its third annual conference, entitled “Where Tradition Meets the Future,” at the Hotel Washington in Washington, DC, from Sept.30 to Oct. 2.

The conference kicked off with a raucous night of shisha (water pipe), dancing and networking on the hotel’s Sky Terrace, with breath-taking views of the White House and Washington Monument.

Culminating the next day’s interesting panel sessions, on such topics as “Arab Americans in the Media Frontlines” and “Academic Freedom: The Struggle for Thought,” was a banquet featuring a keynote address by Hany Abu-Assad, director of “Rana’s Wedding” and the recently released “Paradise Now” (<>).

The conference closed on a light note, with a hilarious Sunday performance by Palestinian comedienne Maysoon Zayid (<>), who had the crowd laughing until they cried.

For more information on NAAP, visit their Web site, <>.

Matt Horton