Posted by Guest on April 26, 2018 in Blog

By Laura Neumayer

Since its founding, the Arab American Institute has made it a priority to amplify the voices of the Arab American community. In the spirit of this week’s Kahlil Gibran Awards, and the essence of giving back and engaging with the community, the first of our two-day Arab American Leadership Day Conference gathered Arab Americans from across the nation to take part in a series of critical panels and policy discussions. Experts from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU, Jewish Voice for Peace, Representative Betty McCollum’s office, and USAID, joined us to discuss the importance of fighting discrimination and surveillance under the current administration, humanitarian intervention and its challenges in conflict zones, and the importance of organizing the Arab American vote. Chief of Staff to Representative McCollum, Bill Harper, explicitly emphasized the need to keep pressuring representatives on issues that matter to us, as it does make a difference.

The panelists’ remarks and community updates shared a common thread: the importance of building coalitions. Pennsylvania’s Jack Hanna debriefed on the need to not only take advantage of fundamental redistricting throughout multiple states in upcoming elections, citing Pennsylvania’s recent legal challenges to redistricting, but to also build coalitions between Arab Americans and other ethnic communities throughout our states. Students also provided updates on the youth movement in the Arab American community, with an expansion of Arab American student associations and a George Washington University partnership with AAI’s Yalla Vote campaign.

The day’s events concluded with remarks from Tarek Abu Jabarah of the Network of Arab-American Professionals, who echoed the message of his fellow speakers—keep organizing. It is a long battle, and there are many issues that intersect with the Arab American identity, but it is crucial to keep speaking out to make change. With that optimistic conclusion, attendees move to prepare for the evening’s 20th Annual Kahlil Gibran Gala, and to bring these new ideas to tomorrow to the Hill.

A special thank you to all our partners and panelists: Samer Khalaf, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; Ahmad Abuznaid, National Network of Arab American Communities; Tarek Abu Jabarah, Network of Arab-American Professionals; Todd Cox, NNAAC Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Becky Monroe, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Rabbi Joseph Berman, Jewish Voice for Peace; Manar Waheed, ACLU; Bill Harper, Representative Betty McCollum’s Office; and Maria Longi, USAID Bureau for the Middle East.

Laura Neumayer is a Spring 2017 intern at the Arab American Institute.