DETROIT — The American Arab Chamber of Commerce (AACC) honored Palestinian American entrepreneurs Farouk Shami and Mohamad Issa at its 21st Annual “Building Economic Bridges” Gala at the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center on Friday, Oct. 25.
The event, which was emceed by Channel 7/WXYZ Reporter Nima Shaffe, was attended by hundreds of people, including corporate representatives, community members and elected officials.
Fay Beydoun, the executive director of the Chamber, welcomed the crowd and stressed on the importance of the contributions of Arab American businesses.
"We have a vibrant and progressive business community," she said. "I look forward to working with you and thank you for sharing your time."
AACC was founded in Michigan in 1992, with the goal of building "economic bridges by promoting and empowering the business community it serves on a local, national and international level."
Shami and Issa were awarded the “Economic Bridge Builder of the Year” Award by the Chamber at the gala.
Shami is the founder and chairman of the board for Farouk Systems, a cosmetology company, whose products are distributed in over 100 countries worldwide. He is also the inventor of the world's first ammonia-free hair dye.
Issa is the co-founder and director of Global Educational Excellence (GEE), an educational management company that operates eleven schools and works with 4,500 students.
Both Shami and Issa are Palestinian American immigrants.
Shami, who lives in Texas, could not make it to the ceremony, because of a family emergency. State Representative Rashida Tlaib accepted the award on his behalf.
Tlaib praised Shami's innovation and philanthropy. She said he is from the same village that her family came from in the occupied West Bank.
According to Tlaib, Shami has donated $2 million to the victims of Hurricane Katrina; founded a factory, creating hundreds of jobs in the West Bank; and built a girls' school in their home village.
Issa said he immigrated to the United States with nothing, whatsoever. However, in seeing America as a land of opportunities, he could not miss out on the chance to be involved in education.
"Education helps bridge the values of America with the heritage of the homeland," he said
Wayne County Sheriff and Detroit mayoral candidate Benny Napoleon applauded Arab Americans' commitment to Detroit.
"I salute the strength, commitment, hard work and generosity that your community has offered," he said.
Keynote speaker Ali Velshi, the host of Al Jazeera America’s nightly business series Real Money, praised Arab American entrepreneurs for staying in Detroit, as the City makes its way back into economic recovery.
"You had faith that Detroit will come back and you stayed here," he told the crowd. "The virtues and values of the people who built Detroit are the values of the people who built America. I believe the worst is behind this region. Detroit is undergoing a remarkable renaissance."
Velshi, who has been described by comedian John Stewart as the "hairless master of doom" for his coverage of the economy during the recession at CNN, pledged to cover Detroit on his new show.
"Detroit is a post-industrial city. It is not the generic Midwest you can cover from Chicago," he said. "We have a commitment to covering this region."
He added that media coverage of the economy does not focus enough on common people.
Velshi said there are three "buckets" for reporting on the economy: Legislators and policy makers; Wall Street analysts and CEO's; and real people.
"The individual is more relevant," he explained. "You get a better sense of the economy in one week on the road, than in a month in New York."
Velshi said that Al Jazeera America, which now can be watched by 55 million Americans, will focus on national news, despite its reputation for covering the Middle East.
"It is an American channel for an American audience," he said.