Posted by Joan Hanna on October 12, 2016 in Blog
“I really believe that public education is the way forward for Michigan’s working people. If activists are going to concentrate energy somewhere, why not education? That’s where I want to put my energy, in public education, to make sure our children and youth have meaningful opportunities in the future,” Ismael “Ish” Ahmed said. Ahmed is a prominent Arab American activist in the metro Detroit area and a candidate for the Michigan State Board of Education. Looking at his past advocacy, time teaching, raising five children with his wife, and looking to the futures of his six grandchildren, running for the open seat just made sense.
Ahmed’s past professional experiences and personal relationships have uniquely set him up to run for this statewide position. Growing up in a relatively low-income community, Ahmed knew that education could be a springboard to better opportunities. He worked hard, and although his financial situation presented challenges to finishing college immediately after high school, Ahmed persevered and eventually got his degree. In between this time, he served in the military, worked in factories and on overseas freighters where he was exposed to different cultures and extreme poverty. When he finished his education at Henry Ford Community College, Ahmed became a teacher and co-founded the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS). After 25 years as the Executive Director of ACCESS, Ahmed accepted an appointment from then Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and became the Director of the Michigan Department of Human Services. Following that appointment, his focus turned back to education as he took on the role of Associate Provost for Metropolitan Impact at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Ahmed has always been active in Democratic politics as well, serving on the Executive Committee up until six months ago and attending multiple conventions as a Delegate since 1984.
Ahmed is half Egyptian and half Lebanese. Ahmed’s father left Aswan, Egypt when he was 10 years old and arrived in New York working as a peddler. He gained his citizenship after serving in World War II. His maternal grandmother moved from Lebanon to Sioux Falls, South Dakota in the late 1800s. After marrying, she moved to the metro Detroit area. Reflecting on who influenced him the most, Ahmed was deeply touched by his step-father's and mother’s sacrifices as well as having a meaningful connection with his grandmother. Ahmed’s stepfather, who was Yemeni American, worked hard as an auto worker to put hot meals on the table for Ahmed and his six siblings. Ahmed’s mother, a housewife, would often open up the family home for young Dearbornites. Ahmed mentioned that “kids would stream into the house so that my mother could read their papers and help them with other homework. She was dedicated to seeing others better themselves.”
Ahmed’s grandmother, Aliya Hassen, became entrenched in the community. She founded the first mosque in Dearborn and co-founded ACCESS in 1971. Hassen was an “inspiration” to Ahmed. “My grandmother was a super activist. She was a friend of Malcom X and helped him set up a trip to the Middle East. She assisted other Arab American communities in organizing around unions, became the first Executive Director of ACCESS and was a feminist. Her passion and enthusiasm for the community, civil rights and mobilizing Arab Americans influenced me greatly -- and continues to influence me. I had a very deep bond with her. She was my mentor.”
Ahmed hopes to make a difference for Michigan's public school children and youth by cutting some of the red tape, promoting equality in funding and working to keep hateful rhetoric and bias out of classrooms, as well as increasing education programs for all. Running on a platform of empowering parents and the larger community to have more of a say in their school systems, Ahmed wants to encourage more locally driven solutions. With first-hand classroom experience, Ahmed is well suited not only to advocate for fairer funding, but also to be a vocal proponent of incorporating diversity and inclusivity into school programs. Believing in the importance of early childhood education, he also wants to invest in Headstart and parenting programs across the state. Endorsements have been rolling in, including the United Auto Workers, the Michigan Federation of Teachers, and President Bill Clinton, among many others.