Posted on April 18, 1996 in Washington Watch
This month the American Druze Society honors Casey Kasem as “Man of the Year.” Casey, born Kamal Amin Kasem, is the son of Lebanese Druze immigrants to the U.S.
Casey is, without question, the most prominent Arab American. He is our star. In American terms, as well, Casey Kasem is a star and has been recognized as such in Hollywood.
Casey has been a radio broadcaster for over 40 years, and for the past 25 has been a dominant force in that industry. His weekly radio and television programs, which present America’s most popular music, are carried by over 500 stations across the United States. With an estimated audience of over 10,000,000, he has established himself as one of the most popular personalities in the American entertainment industry.
In addition to his radio and television programs, Casey’s voice filled the airwaves for years on children’s television cartoon shows, in countless television commercials and as an announcer for television and radio networks. His voice is the most recognized and popular in American broadcasting.
In recognition of his professional accomplishments, Hollywood awarded Casey one of its coveted “stars” on Hollywood Boulevard’s “Walk of Fame.” In addition, he has earned a place in the Radio Hall of fame.
What has made Casey unique is that, even in his professional life, he is more than an entertainer. He doesn’t just play the music Americans like to hear. His trademark contribution to radio and television music programs has been his inspirational messages of compassion and hope.
An entire generations of young Americans has grown up listening to Casey, who has inspired them to care for each other, their parents, their friends, and those who are less fortunate than themselves. He also continues to find ways to project a message of hope and optimism, encouraging his young listeners to “reach for the stars” – to develop their talents and realize their full potential as human beings.
While his professional integrity does not allow him to use his popular program as a forum for his political views, Casey Kasem is an important national political activist who has dedicated his private life to a number of political causes. He has been a leading peace activist and anti-nuclear campaigner. In the 1980s Casey was arrested in a U.S. anti-nuclear demonstration and even traveled to the Soviet Union to march against the nuclear arms race.
Casey has also been instrumental in building bridges between American ethnic communities. He was in the forefront of Arab American efforts in support of Reverend Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 Presidential campaigns And throughout the 1980s he led efforts in Hollywood and the nation to create dialogue between Arab Americans and American Jews. Casey’s work has earned him national recognition and prestigious awards from America’s major African American and Hispanic organizations.
In addition, Casey has been a campaigner for America’s homeless and for a variety of prominent health care organizations, to whom he has dedicated his time and energy to raise funds in support of their work. But his work has not been limited to U.S. domestic concerns.
Since Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Arab American concerns have played a central role in Casey Kasem’s life and work. Deeply moved by the tragedy that had befallen the Lebanese and Palestinian populations, Casey was moved to action. From that point, his commitment has grown to include a wide range of activities in support of Middle East peace, and promotion of the Arab American community and the defense of their rights.
No one has done more in Hollywood to challenge the negative stereotype of Arabs in the media than Casey. No one has done more to challenge fellow entertainers to oppose war in the Middle East and support peace. No one has done more to remind Americans of the significant accomplishments Arab Americans have made to American life. And no one has done more to support every Arab American organization that has asked for his involvement and support.
Casey is the brightest star in our Arab American constellation. He has used his star status to shine a light on Arab American concerns and the work of the community. During the 1980s, in what most feel were the “dark days” for Arab Americans, Casey’s activism gave hope to many in our community. He inspired them to be courageous, and not a few have said, “If Casey can speak out, then so can I.”
His courage was recognized in 1989 by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference – the group that had been founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In awarding him their Martin Luther King Legacy Award, the Reverend Jesse Jackson described Casey as,
“One man who has stood with me and my family and all of the dark places in society and around the world, shedding light, standing for unpopular but righteous causes. History has a way of vindicating people from hysteria if they have principles. I do not know of a public figure today who has risked more for rights than has Casey Kasem.”
On a personal note, I’ve known and worked with Casey since 1982. I’ve been with him at peace marches and demonstrations for the homeless. We worked together in the Jesse Jackson for President campaigns and we’ve gone together to Arab American events.
At one peace March, I recall a popular American singer was so excited at meeting Casey and seeing him play a leadership role in that march. Casey had, the singer said, been an inspiration to her as she grew up listening to his music program. His presence at the march, in many ways, validated her political beliefs.
Casey’s impact on young Arab Americans is even greater. I will never forget walking into a social event for young people at a Syrian-Lebanese convention in the mid-1980s. When the assembled youths recognized his presence in the room they let out a shout of joy. Casey, their star, was with them. It is impossible to overstate the impact that this one man has had on a generation of Americans and the extraordinary symbol of pride and courage he has become in particular for a generation of Arab Americans.
And for me as well. The work I have been doing for 20 years has presented me with many challenges and difficulties. Attempting to represent Arab Americans and their concerns has never been easy. There have been times in my life, and I remember them all too well, when it was the optimism of Casey Kasem and his encouraging words of praise that provided a motivation for me to keep working.
So when the American Druze society meets this month to recognize one of their own as “Man of the Year” they are, in fact, speaking for the rest of us as well.
Casey is, for all Arab Americans, our star, and our “Man of the Year.”
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