by Rashid Abdu, M.D.
On November 16, 17, and 18, 2017, I was privileged and honored, to attend the first three-day conference, held in Dearborn, Michigan, titled: M.O.V.E. It stands for:
Mobilize, Organize, Verbalize, and Empower. I was told that It was the brain “child” of ACCESS and its three institutions: The Arab-American National Museum (AANM), The Center for Arab-American Philanthropy (CAAP), and the National Network for Arab-American Communities.
Although she never claimed, and will probably deny it, I believe that the “mother” of this “child”, was Maha Freij, who conceived it, carried it, and gave it birth! Maha is the Deputy Executive Director and CFO of ACCESS, who in my opinion, is the engine powering most, if not all activities. She is of boundless energy and passion seldom seen. However, whatever she does, she does with a team of men and women, totally dedicated, who share in her vision, mission and passion, for a healthy, educated, productive, and thriving Arab-American communities. She and every member of her team, is a “philanthropist”, who loves humanity.
I believe that the “child” will continue to thrive, and that attendance will grow from 500 for 2017, to at least 1000 for the year 2020 conference.
Those attended this conference came from 10 states, representing East, West, North, South , middle America, and a cross section of Arab-American communities. It was heartening to see so many young people, men and women, engaged, and expressing their sense of community, responsibility, leadership and citizenship, and are grateful that they live in this beautiful land of opportunity, the United States of America.
Unfortunately, I could not attend all the nearly 40 sessions, but the ones I attended, I found interesting, educational, and uplifting. The philanthropic sessions I attended, defined philanthropy as “love of human kind”. Without love of our fellow humans, there will be no philanthropy. I was touched by the audiologist story, who took hearing aids to children in the Middle East, who were deaf, either from birth, victims of disease, or war. Some heard for the first time!— Philanthropy at its finest!
But there are other Arab-American philanthropists, who touched the lives of thousands, and who truly loved humanity. They left their mark on history, like Danny Thomas and St. Jude Children’s Hospital, or Russell Ebeid and Dr. Jack G. Shaheen, who through their generous scholarships, left lasting legacies–monuments of learning, and guaranteed the future of many, for generations to come.
There was also the session conducted by high school students, who raise money to help other children in need, through UNICEF . And I will never forget the poem, written by one of them, Syed Akbari, high school senior, who so eloquently, and thoughtfully expressed how evil thrives and prospers, when good people remain silent, and do nothing, starting with the Mongol in 1209 AD, to the present.
I attended a session on: “Feminist Fire and Activism”, attended by a large number, of mostly women. There was no fire, or “bra burning!”– just a thoughtful, intelligent, and constructive discussion on women’s rights as human beings, and their roles as mothers, nurturers, teachers, leaders, and partners, who deserve respect, equality, at home and in the workplace.
A memorable evenings were at the Arab American National Museum, where we witnessed the art of Nabil Musa, which included different impressionistic and abstract paintings of the American flag, all around the room. The artist was there: talented, sensitive, humble and honest. He eloquently and thoughtfully, told his story and explained his art.
The other evening was at the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA). It houses paintings and sculptures, dated back to the 1500s. A copy, of what I thought was the bible, dated to 1200s, about 200 years before Gutenberg invented printing, and printed the Bible. The evening was concluded by the National Arab Orchestra playing, as we watched rare silent black and white film clips, directed by the pioneer Egyptian Director, Mohamed Bayoumi, in the early 20s, and 30s. It shows King Fuad 1, as the people celebrated the coronation of their Savior King! The film clips were eloquently narrated by an Egyptian history and film scholar, Mohamed Ghawanmeh.
A memorable key note speech was delivered by the Rev. Alvin Herring, Director of racial equity and community engagement, at the W.V. Kellogg Foundation. He emphasized how Arab Americans and their allies, could use art, advocacy, and philanthropy, to create equality and justice for all. When he had us stand up and hold hands with each other, a current of love, compassion, connectedness, and kinship, passed through our bodies.
Overall, it was a 3-day conference, well-conceived, well organized, and beautifully executed, to the last detail. It thoughtfully and correctly, showed how Arab-Americans were fully engaged in being good citizens, who greatly value citizenship, scholarship, philanthropy, and community service. They shun violence and hate, and are committed to a free, just, and peaceful world. I felt proud and grateful to participate in this historic conference, and to be an Arab-American.