“I’m a peacemaker. I make peace… The only way to make peace is to talk,” said Deeb.
As president of both the Michigan Food and Beverage Association (MFBA) and the Michigan Business and Professional Association (MBPA), Deeb has been in a position to work with and initiate dialogue among hundreds of businesses, organizations and officials through social and industry crises for years.
The list of community-oriented boards, organizations and initiatives he is a part of is endless, the highlight being the massive annual Metro Detroit Youth Day that Deeb co-founded and coordinates, which last year brought more than 20,000 children and volunteers to Belle Isle’s Athletic Field for a day of fun and education.
Deeb is also intensely proud of his Arab American identity, and says so frequently.
“I’m proud of my people. I’m proud of my heritage… God has blessed us with all kinds of wonderful things.”
In the early nineties Deeb produced a video with Detroit Public Television entitled “From A to Z: Arabic Contributions to the World.” He said he chose to make it after receiving constant calls from the news media during and after the first Gulf War asking him “Who are the Arabs?”
Deeb was born in the U.S. but recently toured the Middle East with his son.
At 70 years old, Deeb tells about the trip with the enthusiasm of a child. He relishes recounting the night he spent in the desert with Bedouins in Jordan.
Framed pictures from his visits to the ruins of Palmyra in Syria and the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon cover the walls of his Warren office along with dozens of awards and photos of himself with prominent officials, including several U.S. Presidents.
Deeb’s father came to Detroit from a small Syrian village in 1911. He worked at Ford auto plants for more than 20 years before owning three grocery stores.
Deeb said he learned a lot about “understanding people” from “growing up in a store.” He would remain in the food retail world after studying journalism at Michigan State University (MSU), when he worked as production coordinator, reporter and eventually editor of industry newspaper “Grocers’ Spotlight.”
In 1964 he was asked to serve as the head of MFBA. He has since been helping Detroit-area businesses thrive, acting as a liaison to government agencies and to communities.
“We opened doors for new stores… fought for stores’ rights,” Deeb said.
He said that though the association never targeted ethnically owned stores for membership, “they were the ones who came to us first because they needed help, being new to the country.”
“I really enjoy helping people, especially people that need help that don’t understand the system.”
Deeb was recognized nationally for work he did in the aftermath of the 1967 Detroit riots, documenting the damage that was done to food stores. Later he would work to quell tensions on a number of occasions between Arab store-owners and local African American communities. Altercations often turned violent and would result in protests and outcries by residents.
Deeb said that he was always “the guy that would go out there” amid picketing and hostility to talk to both sides and try to calm things down.
In addition to his crisis intervention and peacemaking, Deeb is chairman of the advisory board of Metro-Detroit’s Salvation Army, and serves on the boards of United Way for Southeast Michigan, Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, Detroit Police Cadets, American Red Cross, and the list goes on.
“It all falls within the realm of my job,” he said about his ability to balance all the positions at once. He said that because MFBA and MBPA encompass so many different entities, he can bring together people and resources for all the different causes.
He also said that he feels like 48 years old rather than 70.
“I got a lot of energy.”
When telling about all his accomplishments, Deeb most energetically shows pride in his connections to Arab culture.
“I have not forgotten my roots.”
He jovially shouts any Arabic words that he can think of in conversation and greets Arabs with a hearty “Marhaba! Ahlan wa sahlan!”
Growing up Deeb learned from his father to play Arabic music on his clarinet. In college he earned a scholarship playing in MSU’s marching band, and, along with other ethnic college musicians, one Jewish and another from Spain, he started his own band called the Arabian Knights.
“We were the hottest band on campus for three years,” he said.
Deeb said that though he’s witnessed much prejudice toward Arab Americans in his time, he never himself felt discriminated against.
“Maybe it’s because of my involvement in the community… I get along with, as far as I know, everybody.”
Deeb and his wife Joanne have two children and several grandchildren.
His heritage has clearly been passed along, as his daughter, Jennifer Deeb Kluge, recently produced a cooking instruction video on Arab food entitled “A taste of the Mediterranean.” Deeb’s American born Lebanese mother is featured in the video as Sarah “Sitto” Deeb.
Ed Deeb has also received two honorary doctoral degrees from Detroit College of Business and Davenport University, and has had a conference room and a lobby named after him at MSU’s College of Communications… the list goes on and on.
This years Youth Day, intended to “demonstrate the private sector’s sincerity in helping the youth in our area,” is scheduled for July 11 at Belle Isle. Deeb expects more than 30,000 youths to attend. More than 200 community organizations and dozens of corporations, some of the largest in the world, are involved.
For more information or to participate in Youth Day, call 586-393-8800.