DEARBORN HEIGHTS -The Dearborn Heights Community Organization (DHCO) was established months ago, but has already left a mark. Its presence and importance have become visible.
|Left: DHCO members Amer Saleh, Hassan Bazzi and Zainab Hussein. PHOTO: TAAN/Natasha Dado|
Since launching DHCO members have raised concerns about the Crestwood School District (CSD) to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The active engagement of its members at board of education meetings have prompted change. Recently two new faculty members were hired to work in the ESL department and assist Arabic speaking foreign students.
The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the Arab American Civil Rights League have also been instrumental in the process of getting the changes implemented.
After DHCO President Hassan Bazzi appeared before the CSD various times addressing the issue of drug abuse among the youth, a meeting was called to discuss the issue, and included the police chief, mayor, city council, teachers and representatives from local hospitals.
The DHCO's work is proof that getting involved by showing up to a school board meeting, and sharing concerns can lead to change. "We are getting somewhere," DHCO Treasurer Amer Saleh said.
DHCO has also brought attention to the issue of halal food not being served in the CSD which is comprised of more than 50 percent of Arab Americans.
During a public meeting with the DOJ, DHCO members voiced their concerns about getting halal meat on the school menu, and discussed the resistance people have been met with when bringing up the subject.
DHCO has mobilized the community. Its mission is to impact, empower, and advance the quality of life for all Dearborn Heights residents, not only Arab Americans. It engages people through diversity, and encourages transparency to overcome barriers. DHCO has been greeted with support from the community. Attendance at its meetings is continuing to grow.
"People are very excited about what we're doing," Bazzi said. The DHOC thanks the ADC and ACRL for their active engagement in tackling the issues that have emerged over the CSD.
DHOC founding board members are Bazzi; First Vice President, Haidar Abouzenni; Second Vice President, Abdul Alcodray; Treasurer, Amer Saleh; Secretary, Ashar Makatari; Public Relations, Zainab Hussein, Nadia Berri and Samer Saad; planning and development, Rashid Baydoun; Education, Mohamad Bazzi; Community Action, Walid Mrad, Mohamad Janny and Ali Berri.
DHCO Board member Hussein is running in the upcoming Crestwood Board of Education election. "We encourage people to register and vote, because their vote will affect the changes that are happening in the school district," Saleh said.
The DHCO emerged amid the controversy over the CSD, that was set-off when the ADC filed complaints with federal agencies over alleged discrimination and retaliation against Arab Americans. One of the biggest concerns the filed complaints centered around was the district only having one certified ESL teacher to assist the large Arabic speaking student body.
For years parents, students and faculty members in the district have come forward with complaints about particular issues in the district. Many of the complaints were never addressed, but that's going to change according to the DHCO which plans on keeping track of complaints and making sure they're properly addressed.
Bazzi said the complaints filed with the federal agencies are what have pushed people to come forward recently, and stop being silent about issues.
"I think it was a wake up call for all of us," Bazzi said. "We felt this was the right time for us as parents and concerned citizens to make the move."
Hussein says several people were concerned about things taking place in the district, but didn't know what actions to take or how to get organized.
"It (DHCO) gave the community as a whole in Dearborn Heights one voice to be heard," Hussein said.
The DHCO isn't similar to any other organization that has existed in the past.
"We are organized, and the DHCO represents this type of consistency that never existed before," ACRL Executive Director and DHCO board member Baydoun said.
"This board represents something unlike anything else in the past. You have the bright new generation of individuals who realize the investment we're making in our children." The DHCO model could be used in other districts.
DHCO is focused on the CSD now, but plans on addressing other issues in the future. "When people come together they can really make a change," Saleh said.
If anyone is interested in joining or w like to know more about the DHCO call 313-757-1890 or DHCO48127@gmail.com.