National Arab American Heritage Month - Celebrating the Contributions of Arab Americans
By Sara Tawfik/ Arab America Contributing Writer
For over a century, Arab Americans have made numerous contributions to virtually every aspect of American society: in medicine, law, business, education, technology, government, military service, and culture. As a result, their contributions have helped build a better nation. We will hear from numerous public officials, educators, and community leaders who will commemorate and pay tribute to the contributions of Arab Americans. The event will also include several Arab American music artists who will celebrate this special month through their performances.
Meet the Speakers
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell represents the 12th District of Michigan in the U.S. House of Representatives. Before being elected to Congress, Debbie was the Chair of the Wayne State University (WSU) Board of Governors. An active civic and community leader, she is a recognized national advocate for women and children. For more than 30 years Debbie served one of Michigan’s largest employers, the General Motors (GM) Corporation, where she was President of the GM Foundation and a senior executive responsible for public affairs. In her commitment to job creation, Debbie led the effort to bring the 10,000 Small Businesses initiative, a $20 million partnership designed to help create jobs and economic growth, to southeast Michigan. She is a past chair of the Manufacturing Initiative at the American Automotive Policy Council.
Rashida Tlaib is a well-known progressive warrior and, in her own words, “a mother working for justice for all.” Born and raised in Detroit, the proud daughter of Palestinian immigrant parents, she is the Congresswoman for Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, which includes the city of Detroit and many surrounding communities.| Read more about Rashida Tlaib here
Congressman Jamie Raskin proudly represents Maryland’s 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. The district includes Montgomery, Carroll, and Frederick Counties. Congressman Raskin was sworn into his third Term at the start of the 117th Congress on January 3, 2021. This is Rep. Raskin’s third term serving on the House Judiciary Committee, the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and the Committee on House Administration. This is his second term serving on the Rules Committee and the Coronavirus Select Subcommittee. He was also renamed Chair of the Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and Chair of the Rules Subcommittee on Expedited Procedures for the 117th Congres
Judy Chu was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in July 2009. She represents the 27th Congressional District, which includes Pasadena and the west San Gabriel Valley of southern California. Rep. Chu currently serves on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over legislation pertaining to taxes, revenues, Social Security, and Medicare. In that Committee, Rep. Chu is a member of the Subcommittees on Health, giving her oversight over healthcare reform and crucial safety net programs, Worker and Family Support, and Oversight. She also serves on the House Small Business Committee, which has oversight of the Small Business Administration and is the Chair of the Small Business Oversight Subcommittee.
Mayor London Breed is a native San Franciscan, raised by her grandmother in Plaza East Public Housing in the Western Addition neighborhood. In June 2018, Mayor Breed was elected to be the first African American woman and second woman in San Francisco history to serve as Mayor. She was re-elected for her first full four-year term in November 2019. Prior to public service, Mayor Breed served as Executive Director of the African American Art & Culture Complex in the Western Addition for over a decade. She also served as a San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Commissioner and in 2010 was appointed by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom to be a San Francisco Fire Commissioner, where she served until her election to the Board of Supervisors.
Congresswoman Cori Bush is a registered nurse, community activist, organizer, single mother, and ordained pastor for the people of St. Louis. Congresswoman Bush is serving her first term as the representative of Missouri’s 1st Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. She is the first Black woman and first nurse to represent Missouri; the first woman to represent Missouri’s 1st Congressional District; and the first activist from the movement fighting for Black lives elected to the United States Congress.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer is a lifelong Michigander who is focused on getting things done that will make a difference in people’s lives. She’s an attorney, an educator, former prosecutor, State Representative, and Senator. But the most important title she boasts is MOM. Inspired by her family, she’s devoted her life to building a stronger Michigan for all and governed through unprecedented, colliding crises. As Governor Whitmer has led Michigan through this extraordinary time, she’s remained focused on doing the right things: acting decisively, following the science, and listening to the experts. Her leadership helped get the once in a century pandemic under control and laid the groundwork to rebuild Michigan’s economy back stronger than ever.
Mike Duggan was elected Mayor of the City of Detroit on November 5, 2013, and re-elected to a second term on November 7, 2017. Duggan, born in Detroit, has spent his entire career working in the city to solve some of the most complex issues facing Detroiters, including crime, blight and access to jobs. As Mayor, Duggan continues to be accessible to residents, attending at least one home gathering each week to help him keep in touch with Detroit residents, their needs and their evaluation of the city’s progress.
Mr. Garcia’s life is that of self-made success and public service spanning decades of hard work and sacrifice, a son born of Mexican immigrants who earned his way from shoeshine boy to the Statehouse of Texas as an elected lawmaker. From newspaper boy, he rose to become one of Texas’s most visible newsmakers, as the youngest Mayor Pro-Tem of Dallas, one of America’s top 10 cities. From a busboy who dreamed of his own future, he went on to protect America’s Dreamers as the author of Texas’ laws, the first in the nation to protect immigrant students, after receiving his B.A. in Political Science from the University of North Texas in 1980 and his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas in 1983. From a young man who grew up listening to his parents’ stories about life in Mexico, he went on to win a scholarship to study at the El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City where he earned a Masters’ degree in International Relations. Indeed, the depth and breadth of his life have enabled Domingo to also serve as an editorial columnist and broadcast commentator as well as a highly successful trial lawyer for thirty years.
On June 8, 2017, the Fairfax County School Board appointed Scott Brabrand, Ed.D., as their Superintendent of Schools. He oversees day to day operations in the 10th largest school district in the U.S. that includes 198 schools and centers; 189,000 students and 24,000 employees. FCPS has more than 27 million square feet of school buildings and office space, including 153 Energy Star certified schools (more than any other school system in the country). Since Brabrand’s return to FCPS (after spending five years as Superintendent of Lynchburg City Schools), he has worked collaboratively with county officials to achieve two consecutive years of fully funded budget requests – the first time the district’s budget requests were fully funded in more than 20 years.
Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, a union of 1.7 million teachers; paraprofessionals and school-related personnel; higher education faculty and staff; nurses and other healthcare professionals; local, state, and federal government employees; and early childhood educators. Prior to her election as AFT president in 2008, Weingarten served for 11 years as president of the United Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 2, representing approximately 200,000 educators in the New York City public school system, as well as home child care providers and other workers in health, law, and education. Weingarten taught history at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood from 1991 to 1997 and helped her students win several state and national awards debating constitutional issues. Weingarten was included in Washingtonian’s 2021 Washington’s Most Influential People, and in 2013, the New York Observer named Weingarten one of the most influential New Yorkers of the past 25 years.
Lauren Montegue is the Executive Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the first ED at CMES since its founding in 1954. Under my administration, in 2017 CMES opened its first field office in Tunisia, one of the first Harvard field offices in an Arab country and resulting in an over ten-fold increase in student, faculty, and staff visits to-and-from the Middle East. From 2014-2019 CMES served as the US Host of the 31 university CASA consortium which sent advanced US Arabic fellows to Cairo and Amman for a year of immersive language study. In 2017, the Mellon Foundation awarded CMES a collaborative project grant with Boğaziçi University on Enhancing Teaching and Research on the Byzantine Empire.
James Zogby co-founded the Arab American Institute in 1985 and continues to serve as its president. He is Director of Zogby Research Services, a firm that has conducted groundbreaking surveys across the Middle East. For the past 3 decades, he has served in leadership roles in the Democratic National Committee and served 2 terms as a President Obama appointee to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. He writes a weekly column published in 12 countries. He is featured frequently on national and international media as an expert on Middle East affairs. In 2010, Zogby published the highly-acclaimed book, Arab Voices. His 2013 e-books, Looking at Iran: The Rise and Fall of Iran in Arab Public Opinion and 20 Years After Oslo, are drawn from his extensive polling across the Middle East with Zogby Research Services.
David Hamod is President & CEO of the National U.S. – Arab Chamber of Commerce (NUSACC). Since its inception almost 50 years ago, NUSACC has been the preeminent organization for fostering trade and investment between the United States and the 22 countries of the Arab world. Mr. Hamod has been a prominent and active member of the U.S. business community for more than three decades. He is President & CEO of Intercom International Consultants, a Washington-based consulting firm that has served as an advisor to numerous business
groups, including more than 30 U.S. companies. In that capacity, he served on the International Policy Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for more than a decade. Prior to founding Intercom, Mr. Hamod worked for the Brookings Institution, International Business Machines (IBM) Corporation, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), and The New York Times, among others.
Massari is a Lebanese Canadian R&B and pop recording artist who also has familial roots in Jordan and Palestine. At 10-years-old, along with his family, Massari was forced to flee Lebanon amid the country’s ongoing civil war where they eventually settled in Canada. Because of these experiences, he has lived a life that spans two distinct cultures. He has blended these two worldly influences into his music where he fused the Middle Eastern and Arabic beats of his youth with uniquely North American sounds of American hip hop, R&B, South Asian pop, and even the stirring rhythms of the Caribbean dancehall.
Elyanna is a Palestinian Chilean Arab pop singer who knew at age 7 that she always wanted to be a singer. She was born in Nazareth in Palestine and her grandfather was also a famous Middle Eastern poet. Additionally, she grew up in a family where she was surrounded by art and music. Elyanna also enjoys composing her songs as she often writes music with both her mother and brother. In her young career thus far, she has already been given the nickname of the “Arab Rihanna” because of her sultry voice and wide vocal range, and Elyanna’s style has been compared to Shakira except for her major difference between these two pop stars is that she sings all of her music in Arabic which provides a bridge between the United States and her homeland of Palestine.
Muath Idriss s a Syrian refugee who has enriched America, and in particular, Arab America with his art of music. He is also a warbler, Dj, and had 2 albums with Rotana Records. Idriss is the1st to translate/perform the american national anthem in Arabic. Muath Idriss is more than that; he lifts up the spirit of those who are around him and displays a beauty that you can’t see but only feel. For these reasons and more he earned the title of Ambassador of Good Will from the Arab America Foundation!
Janelle Issis is a talented, fun-loving, full-blooded Palestinian-American-born national touring artist, choreographer, performer, certified Yogini, nutritionist, and CESD signed Model and Performer. She is best known for her contagious laugh and her sultry elegance on the hit U.S. show “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 9 as the top 6th female finalist and the only classically & fusion-trained bellydancer ever to hit the stage! Her recent credits include The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 3 working with Marguerite Derricks, Derek, and Julianne Hough on Good Morning America, J Balvin in an international T-Mobile commercial as well as artist Janelle Monáe and choreographer to Arab Moroccan artist Abir. Janelle resides in New York City teaching at Broadway Dance Center, Ailey Extension, and several others. Currently, with the worldwide pandemic, Janelle created JBelly “School of RAQ” Virtual Studios with weekly classes, courses, Body loving BellydanceBURN & More! Stay up to date with Janelle on Instagram @jbellyburn
Michael Kahwajy-Hyland is a Lebanese-American speaker, business coach, celebrity designer, and one of the top soloist Dabke dancers in the US (his goal is to perform on stage with Shakira one day!). Michael believes that dancing creates life. His purpose in performing is to “strengthen communities, create lasting memories, and inspire an appreciation for life in everyone watching.” For more information, go to Michael Kahwajy-Hyland on social media.
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