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Arab America Foundation Engages Over 40 Speakers and 360 Attendees at the CONNECT Arab America: Empowerment Summit, November 12-14, 2021--Event Recap

posted on: Nov 17, 2021

By: Anthony Bayyouk, Claire Boyle, Omar Mansour, Leyelle Mosallam, and Isra Saleh / Arab America Contributing Writers

The Arab America Foundation hosted its historic in-person CONNECT Arab America: Empowerment Summit from November 12-14, 2021. During the entire Summit, the Arab America Foundation engaged over 40 speakers and 360 registrants were in attendance.

The event featured an exciting array of speakers in public service, women’s activism, identity, community advocacy, engagement, and leadership. Moreover, participants had many networking opportunities and celebrated Arab heritage through music, entertainment, cuisine, and cultural and informational exhibits.

The Summit brought together Arab Americans from over 20 states. “Together we are better, together we are stronger,” said Warren David, President of Arab America and Co-Founder of the Arab America Foundation.

The Arab America Foundation (AAF) is a non-profit (501c3) educational and cultural organization. The mission of AAF is to promote the Arab heritage, educate about the Arab identity, and connect and empower Arab Americans with each other and with diverse organizations across the U.S.

Friday, November 12, 2021:

National Arab Orchestra poster

The festivities started on Friday, November 12, 2021, when Warren David, president of Arab America and co-founder of the Arab America Foundation welcomed our guests to the Ahlan networking and reception dinner where attendees were able to meet one another and indulge in a wonderful Arab food buffet. The attendees were treated to a very special tour of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and they were all given a warm welcome to the Summit by Dr. Diana Abouali, the director of the museum. Later on in the evening, our guests attended the National Arab Orchestra (NAO) concert that was under the direction of the maestro, Michael Ibrahim, and this event was very special because it was the first time the NAO had performed in-person since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Saturday, November 13, 2021 (Summit):


The exciting day of the Summit began with the Man’oushe, Foul, and Qahwa Networking Breakfast. Guests were treated to a wonderful and delicious Arab breakfast before the Summit day kicked off!

Warren David
Dr. Adel Korkor

Morning Session:

Derek Dickow: Networking 2.0

(From left-to-right) Warren David, President of Arab America and Co-Founder of Arab America Foundation interviewing Derek Dickow, Master Networker

The Summit kicked off with Warren David, President of Arab America and Co-Founder of Arab America Foundation interviewing the ‘Master Networker’, Derek Dickow.

Warren asked Derek: “So, as an Iraqi Chaldean American, how did you get into networking, as Arab Americans don’t typically do these kinds of things?” Derek answered: “Actually, Warren, I learned all this from both you and my dad when I was 17, 18 years old. You both taught me to have that winning attitude.” Dickow then went further and said, “As I got into my career, I eventually developed an interest in other peoples’ success–you learn more about what you can give as opposed to taking away from them. To me, networking goes beyond just receiving a business card, it is about making connections.”

Warren David and Derek Dickow
The audience enjoying the CONNECT Arab America: Empowerment Summit

Championing Change: Arab Americans on Identity and Community Activism

(From left-to-right): Dr. Osama Abuirshaid, Dr. Debbie Almontaser, Nabih Ayad, Amer Zahr, and Dr. Waleed Mahdi, as the Moderator

Identity and activism are two integral concepts that are important to Arab Americans. Join this diverse panel which collectively brings decades of experience in promoting and clarifying Arab identity through education, activism, advocacy, and culture. Engage with our panelists to become empowered Arab Americans and learn about different ways to be active change agents in your communities.

The “Championing Change” panel brought together five wonderful panelists who are revered Arab American activists in their communities. This panel was moderated by Dr. Waleed Mahdi, assistant professor of US-Arab Politics at the University Oklahoma, and it featured Dr. Osama Abuirshaid, the executive director of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Dr. Debbie Almontaser, an educator, Nabih Ayad, attorney and founder of the Arab American Civil Rights League, and Amer Zahr, a political activist, professor, and comedian as the panelists.

Identity Panel

Omar Kurdi

Omar Kurdi, writer, performing artist, and Founding Member of Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi

Omar Kurdi is a writer, performing artist, and Founding Member of Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi. He is also the CEO of Friends for Life Rehabilitation Services. At the CONNECT Arab America: Empowerment Summit, he provided us with a fun and enjoyable performance.

Omar Kurdi
Senator Debbie Stabenow

Service and Solutions: Arab Americans Seeking Public Service

(From left-to-right): Assad Turfe, Bilal Hammoud, Susan Dabaja, Rana Abdelhamid, and Abderrahim Foukara as the Moderator

Now more than ever, Arab Americans are becoming active in getting public service careers in all levels of politics, including municipal, regional, local, and state governments.  Panelists will talk about the importance of having Arab American politicians who represent the needs and desired policies of their constituents.  The distinguished panelists will briefly tell their stories and empower the youth by giving them suggestions on how to enter public service.

The “Service and Solutions” panel featured five amazing public servants who represent the best in media and politics, state, local, and county government in Michigan, and an entrepreneur turned aspiring political candidate. Abderrahim Foukara, the Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief of Al Jazeera served as the moderator, and this panel featured Susan Dabaja, the President of the Dearborn City Council, Bilal Hammoud, the Public Engagement Associate in the Michigan Department of State, Assad Turfe, Chief of Staff to the Wayne County Executive, and Rana Abdelhamid, an entrepreneur and activist running for U.S. Congress for New York’s 12th Congressional District.

We got the opportunity to engage with our Arab American public servants, and Susan Dabaja spoke about her experiences as a young female Arab American college student who tried to balance the cultural expectation of getting married while also wanting to be a strong and successful advocate for her community. In referencing how to be a confident and empowered Arab woman who does both she said “don’t let the pressure to be a mother and get married stand in the way of your success.” Bilal Hammoud spoke about the importance of Arab Americans leaving their little bubble of Dearborn, Michigan, to showcase their talents to the rest of the world. He urged that Arab Americans should show all their community has to offer. He said that by “putting ourselves out there and showing the world who we are that Arab Americans can show people who they really are in a positive light because it allows us to control the narrative versus those who want us to trip up and make a mistake.” Assad Turfe discussed how “Arab Americans want to be politically involved and part of something greater.” As he mentioned to the audience, “the community is striving in this country, and people need to know it.” Finally, Rana Abdelhamid discussed how growing up in New York’s ‘Little Egypt’ inspired her to run for national office because she saw “the challenges of discrimination especially amongst hijabi women, and how 9/11 actually affected the safety of her community for Muslim women. Regarding her congressional run, Abdelhamid said “she is pushing for community safety that is equitable and just.” Abdelhamid is running proudly as a progressive in the Democratic Party.

Public Service Panel
Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib

Stevie “Soul” Ansara

Stevie “Soul” Ansara. Photo Credit: Dimitrius Ramirez


(From left-to-right): Myles Amine, Yasmine Al-Bustami, and Shareefa Albanna as the Moderator

Meet two dynamic trailblazers who in their respective careers have made history this year.  They are Myles Amine, the Team San Marino Wrestling Bronze Medalist at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and Yasmine Al-Bustami, actress on CBS’s NCIS: Hawai’i and CW’s The Originals TV series. Here, they will briefly share their stories, and talk about why Arab American representation is so important in all fields, including sports and the entertainment industry.

The Trailblazers panel was moderated by Shareefa Albanna, entrepreneur and President of Pursuit Business Consulting.

Trailblazers Panel

2 Minute Ideas with Team Leaders

Arab America Foundation State Team Leaders
State Team Leaders

The Best Among Us: Recognizing Arab American Rising Leaders

(From left-to-right): Ameera David and John Sakakini as Co-Moderators

Welcoming Arab America Foundation’s Rising Leaders to the Stage

Awardees on stage with their awards

The “Best Among Us” featured Ameera David, Reporter/Anchor for WXYZ TV, ABC Detroit, and John Sakakini, Airline Partner Development, Revenue Management for Delta Airlines. This panel recognized some of Arab America Foundation’s Awardees who were recently selected for their “20 Under 20,” “30 Under 30,” and “40 Under 40” initiatives. The awardees were called up to receive their various awards. The awardees who were in attendance were winners from “20 Under 20″ for 2020:” Issa Hosari, “30 Under 30” winners from 2021 including Ayyad Algabyali, Devin Bathish, Soujoud Hamade, Bilal Hammoud, Deeyar Ithayem, Virginia Jreisat, Rund Khayyat, Sami Mubarak, Najat Nahshal, Summer Nasser, and Neda Shaheen. The “40 Under 40” winners in attendance who were recognized were: Fathi Abdelsalam (2021), Rachid Alabed (2020), Hadil Bannoura Issa (2021), Rami Barbari (2021), Ghassan Bou Diab (2021), Mahbuba Hammad (2021), Noura Ismail (2021), Khaled Ktaily (2021), Omar Kurdi (2020), Tina Lattouf Chamoun (2021), Waleed Mahdi (2021), Adeeb Mozip (2021), Mazen Rasoul (2021), and Nagham Wehbe (2021).

Rising Leaders

Sahtein Networking Lunch

Digging into the Sahtein Networking Lunch!

The attendees enjoyed a very nice lunch and found the opportunity to try the new networking skills they had obtained from Derek Dickow’s “Networking 2.0” interview session in the morning.

Checking out the many wonderful vendors at the Summit during the lunch break!

Arab Keyboard Music with Abe Diab

Abe Diab, Arab Keyboardist

Afternoon Session

A full crowd enjoying the Summit!

Arab Cuisine as a Gateway to Culture

(From left-to-right): Blanche Shaheen and Mai Kakish, Arab Cuisine Extraordinaires!

Arab cuisine is a beautiful and delicious way to celebrate our heritage! Join Mai Khader Kakish, food writer behind the successful @almondandfig blog, and Blanche Shaheen, the YouTube cooking show host of “Feast in the Middle East” who share how they express their Arab roots through food. You may even be able to pick up some new recipes for yourself along the way!

Karim Nagi

Karim Nagi, Arab Musician performing on the Riq, the Arab tambourine

Karim Nagi is an Egyptian musician, composer, and DJ and he played the Darbuka (drum) for Arab America during Saturday’s event. Nagi represented different Arab countries by showing the audience how different rhythms on the Darbuka sound depending on the country. Nagi’s performance took us through the whole Middle East and it was a memorable cultural experience.

Karim Nagi

Meet the Mayors: Arab Americans on Their Challenges and Triumphs

(From left-to-right): Mayor-Elect Abdullah Hammoud, Mayor-Elect Amer Ghalib, Mayor Bill Bazzi, Mayor Andre Sayegh, and Zenna F. Elhasan as the Moderator

Engage with distinguished Arab Americans who have been elected as the mayors of their respective cities. Learn about the challenges they face in leading their cities and what these mayors are doing to be advocates for their constituents. In addition, they will talk about the triumphs they have experienced over the years and how they are empowering Arab Americans in their communities.

The Mayoral panel featured Mayors-Elect Abdullah Hammoud and Amer Ghalib (Dearborn and Hamtramck, respectively), Mayors Bill Bazzi and Andre Sayegh (Dearborn Heights and Paterson, New Jersey, respectively), and Zenna F. Elhasan, General Counsel for the Kresge Foundation.

In referencing his support of Palestinians, Mayor Sayegh said: “We use Paterson as a platform for Palestine because we have one of the largest Palestinian communities in the United States. We have proudly raised the Palestinian flag, we have Palestinian elected officials, I appointed the first chief judge in the country. It’s not about purpose, but action!” Mayor-Elect Abdullah Hammoud mentioned “when I first arrived in Lansing [capital of Michigan], I was the only Muslim in the state legislature and one of two Arab Americans. At the time, I was the first Arab any of my colleagues had met, and we had to navigate tensions, discrimination, and racism from my colleagues. Many people have asked me now, “what does it feel like to be first?” “Well, sometimes we get too wrapped up in that, and I think success is actually not in being first, but rather demonstrating that Arab Americans can do just as good a job as anyone else.” Mayor Bill Bazzi remarked on how important it was to repair damaged relationships between the community, police, and city government due to years of constant discrimination, and he said “I told all my directors and chiefs on Day 1 that I have zero tolerance for any discrimination whatsoever, and every resident in this city is to be treated as if they are a customer, and lastly, my door is always open to residents and employees for anything.” Mayor Andre Sayegh discussed the importance of providing emergency funds of $400 a month for a year because “my wife says that most people are one flat tire away from financial hardship,” and he wants their residents to feel safe and secure in Paterson. Finally, Mayor-Elect Amer Ghalib said, “I want [Arabs] to get involved in the political process. Education alone is not enough, you have to make an impact, and here in the United States, your vote is the most important weapon you have to enact change.”

Mayor’s Panel

Maple School Drummers

The famous Maple School Drummers
Maple School Drummers

She Calls the Shots: Arab American Women on Taking Charge in the World of Nonprofits

(From left-to-right): Rouba Samman, Weam Namou, Taharah Saad, and Soujoud Hamade as the Moderator

Arab American women are becoming important leaders, especially, in the world of nonprofits and business ventures. Join these successful women in discussing the various issues they have faced over the years in their communities and beyond, and learn how to become an empowered Arab American woman and ally for female advancement. Engage with their triumphs to celebrate Arab American women who are leaving their marks in the world, especially, Arab America. 

Women’s Panel


Palestinian American Multimedia Artist and Performer, Neemz

Neemz is a Palestinian American artist who performed live for Arab America. Neemz performed 3 songs on her debut album “It’s Above Me” which dropped this past Friday on November 12th. Neemz performed her very first single “Runnin Through the City”, “Lifethativebeenlivin”, and “Plan A.” Lifethativebeenlivin is about a stage in your life where you are working on becoming a better version of yourself and trying to achieve all your goals. Sometimes when we are at this stage in life we tend to become distant from our friends and a few friends might take that personally; however, Neemz believes that sometimes it is ok to put ourselves first. We can’t give someone our best if we are not at our best. “Plan A” is about giving 100% to our goal. In this song, Neemz reminds herself and her audience that we should think about nothing but what we really want and not fall back and rely on another goal or in other words a “Plan B.” Neemz put on a fantastic performance on Saturday. The audience was highly engaged and it will be a performance to remember.


Afternoon Session of the 2 Minute State Team Leaders

Afternoon team leaders with Dr. Amal David
State Team Leaders

Saturday Evening Gala/Hafla

The Saturday Evening Gala/Hafla (party in Arabic) was a rousing success! Our guests enjoyed an eight-course meal full of favorite Arab food dishes, amazing performances from renowned Arab vocalists, Joseph Bishara and Sawsan Najar, and the University of Michigan student dance troupe, Arabesque! The gala attendees also had the opportunity to engage with prominent politicians who were featured speakers including U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI 12th District), and Nabeela Barbari, Director of Resilience and Response, National Security Council, The White House!

Our guests then danced the night away on the Dabke floor! What an outstanding way to end this historic and groundbreaking summit! Everyone had the absolute time of their lives here! It was definitely a hafla to remember and one for the ages in Dearborn, Michigan!

Featured Speakers: Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and Nabeela Barbari, National Security Council, The White House

U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI 12th District)
Nabeela Barbari, National Security Council, The White House

Arab Vocalists: Joseph Bishara and Sawsan Najar

Featured Arab vocalists, Joseph Bishara and Sawsan Najar

Gala Highlights

Blanche Shaheen, Dr. Amal David, and Mai Kakish having some fun at the Gala/Hafla
Lots of young people having fun at the Gala/Hafla!


The University of Michigan student dance troupe, Arabesque
Sawsan Najar, famous Arab vocalist
Warren David doing the Dabke!
Karim Nagi and Dr. Amal David dancing Dabke
Everyone dancing the Dabke!


Nabelah Ghareeb: MVP (Most Valuable Person) Awardee from Arab America Foundation for 2021

Nabeleh Ghareeb, MVP Awardee with Dr. Amal and Warren David, Dr. Adel Korkor, Chairman of the Arab America Foundation Board, and Board Member, Attorney Linda Mansour

Nabeleh Kakish Ghareeb, a business consultant and project manager for multiple non-profit agencies in the city of Detroit. In her role, she leads and manages projects in a turnkey process from strategic thoughts to creating state of the art programs for non-profit agencies, Nabeleh served in various leadership roles in non-profit organizations and Higher education institutions

Mona Abdulla, Emerging Leader Awardee from Arab America Foundation for 2021

Mona Abdulla, Emerging Leader Awardee with Dr. Amal and Warren David, Board Member Attorney Linda Mansour, and Dr. Adel Korkor, Chairman of the Arab America Foundation Board

Mona Abdulla is the mother of two men and the daughter of Yemeni-American immigrant parents. Mona received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and her Master’s degree in College Student Affairs from Buffalo State. Mona also serves as a Board Trustee for Lackawanna City Schools amongst other local and national boards. She carries many firsts because she is a trailblazer and visionary. 

Having fun at the Summit’s Gala/Hafla!

Sponsors and Exhibitors

A huge thank you goes out to all our wonderful sponsors and exhibitors! To find more information and support our sponsors, please click here!

Check out Arab America’s blog here!