DEARBORN - The Arab Student Union of the University of Michigan Dearborn held its 7th Annual ‘Empowering the Youth’ dinner on Friday March 23 at the Bint Jebail Cultural Center in Dearborn with Keynote speaker Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich.
|The Arab Student Union, members of which are shown, welcomed Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio (not pictured here) to their 7th Annual ‘Empowering the Youth’ dinner at Bint Jebail Cultural Center. Kucinich noted that he visited the city in Lebanon that the center is named after following the 2006 war. At center are Wayne County Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Mike Jaafar (in green shirt and suit) Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, and Publisher of The Arab American News Osama Siblani.|
The reception, which included the attendance of over 675 guests, started with welcoming remarks from the Mistress of Ceremony, Ruby Braich, Vice President of the organization. Braich led into a touching tribute in honor of former ASU member Rena Ghannam, who passed away in 2010 from a pulmonary embolism. She was only 24.
Braich, who is of Indian descent, talked about the first time she ever met Ghannam.
“I remember the first time I met Rena I was an underclassman at Canton High School,” recalled Braich during the ceremony. “When she found out I wasn’t Arabic, she expressed her love for diversity and her own involvement with the Indian club in high school. Rena if you are listening, I’m following through with your commitment to diversity and look where I am now.”
A signature mark at the ASU dinners has always been the celebration of Mother’s Day in the Middle East, which always falls in late March. This year was no different; dozens of roses were handed out to mothers in the audience after the Director of Community Relations, Zahraa Ayoub, recited a Mother’s Day poem in Arabic.
|Kucinich spoke about the immorality of foreign wars, saying that America has “weapons of mass destruction” at home including poverty, unemployment and poor education. PHOTOS: Nafeh Abuab/TAAN |
Next on the program was Mahde Abdallah, who has been president of the organization for two years running. During his speech, he discussed the achievements the organization accomplished within the last year including helping host the first ever Asian American Journalist convention last August, petitioning for an Arab Studies minor at the University of Michigan Dearborn and most recently, bringing in Republican GOP candidate Ron Paul to speak at the Dearborn Civic Center in February.
“The Arab Student Union has year after year stood up to challenges by increasing positive awareness of Arabic culture, while remaining politically active both on campus and within our communities,” Abdallah stated in his speech. “ASU’s slogan is ‘We will not stand idly by,’ a slogan that promotes the idea of standing up for peace and justice and promoting the beautiful and deep rooted Arab culture.”
One of the subjects Abdallah touched upon in his speech was the lack of support the Arab Student Union seemed to have been receiving from their very own university, after new policies were created that would cut funding for events taking place outside of school venues, including the ASU dinner. Many students were disgruntled with this new policy because they were not warned or information of the rule changes.
“A deliberate campaign of obstruction has been spearheaded by the administration to limit the mobility and voice of our organization as an activist body,” Abdallah stated in his speech. “One cannot help but feel that Arab and Muslim concerns are of secondary importance to the University of Michigan. On a brighter note, ASU still flourished in the face of these administrative obstacles.”
But the man of the hour was none other than the key note speaker, Congressman Kucinich, who took the stage to talk about the common challenges communities face in today’s society.
“There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But we have weapons of mass destruction here at home. Unemployment is a weapon of mass destruction. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction…we have things we need to take care of here at home before we go around the world looking for dragons to slay. It’s time we took care of things here in America,” Kucinich said in his speech, rounded out by a massive applause from the audience.
Kucinich has made a name for himself ever since being elected into congress in 1996 and serving as an Ohio State Senator from 1994-1996. He has made strong statements by going against the pack when he voted against the NAFTA agreement, the Patriot Act, and the 2003 invasion into Iraq among other things.
Kucinich also shared his continued great support for ASU.
“It’s an honor for me to be here to show appreciation and support for a very dynamic group of young people who are making a difference not only in this community and this state but nationally,” he added.
After Congressman Kucinich finished up his speech, the organization proceeded to give out a few awards. The "Empowering the Youth" award was given to Attorney Nabih Ayad, who notably started the Arab American Civil Rights League (ACRL) in 2011.
"Scholar of the Year" went to Dr. Sally Howell, one of the organizations Advisors. The "Community Service" award went to Dearborn photographer Nafeh I. AbuNab. The "Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement" award went to Sir Michael Berry, who founded the "Michael Berry Career Center" in Dearborn among other things.
Ali Ashkar of PrintXpress also received his yearly award for helping out the organization with the program book since the first annual dinner in 2006. Rashid Baydoun, who was president of the organization for two years and served as the Director of Political Action in 2011, received a “Distinguished Alumni Award” for his contributions. Besides being the keynote speaker, Kucinich also received an award by the organization titled "The People’s Congressman."
"Dennis Kucinich was truly a remarkable speaker. He uplifted the crowd with his inspiring speech and showed the Arab American community how much he cares about us. He is the last true statesman serving the United States," Fareed Shalhout, Director of Community Relations stated. "This was a very successful dinner and it was all thanks to everyone who contributed and attended."