Detroit Community — Rebuilding Neighborhoods and a New Mosque

May 25, 2006 by  


Second Annual National Arab American Service Day a Resounding Success

Detroit—May 20—ACCESS, in coordination with Motor City Blight Busters and numerous sponsors, held an energetic “Arab American Service Day” this past weekend to spur redevelopment of Detroit and to open lines of cooperation and communication with other ethnic organizations.

This year at least 14 different cities from San Francisco to Lackawanna had programs designed to be a part of Arab American Service Day.

Last year was the first annual Arab American Service Day, which held synchronized service days across the nation—the Detroit portion of the event involved park and public school cleanup efforts in Mexicantown. This year, ACCESS changed the focus to cooperation with the African American community, helping a blighted neighborhood but this time focusing on helping a single family instead of helping institutions.

250 volunteers got up early Saturday morning and travelled to northern Detroit to rebuild a battered neighborhood as a part of this Service Day. The event involved the demolition and carting away of three burned-out buildings—broken into bits of debris by bulldozers before the volunteers began to work—the creation of a mural, and some help to a family that was building a new house in the midst of the destroyed buildings.

The event was well coordinated, starting at 9 a.m. at Motor City Blight Buster’s headquarters and then moving after registration and a brief orientation and pep talk to the target neighborhood, which was only a few blocks away. Participants received T-shirts and keychains commemmorating the event. Youths received 7 hours towards their mandatory community service requirements.

The unpleasant atmosphere of the blighted neighborhood was shown by an ongoing police investigation which was occurring only a block away from the target neighborhood—a dozen anxious onlookers watched as a police man spoke from next to his cruiser.

This year’s Service Day was done in coordination with Motor City Blight Busters (MCBB), headed by John J. George, an extremely dynamic and charismatic man who has dedicated himself to revitalizing Detroit neighborhoods by demolishing and removing burned-out and unused buildings. Mr. George began his work 18 years ago, in the words of one of his coworkers, volunteer crew leader Zachary Hurd, by working out of the back of a car with shovels and picks to tear down a crackhouse.

Now Mr. George and those who work beside him like Mr. Hurd have built Motor City Blight Busters (MCBB) into a registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation which conducts the same work on a much larger scale.

Mr. George is deeply motivated by his religious faith as a Catholic. He exclaimed during the event that “the Lord is shining down on us today!” He says that the purpose of his work is to remove the bad energy from neighborhoods and replace it with good energy, and intends his work to be in imitation of Jesus’ (as) work, who was a carpenter. He says that when you give, you receive back ten-fold, but that what comes back to you comes in a different form.

MCBB maintains a website (www.blightbusters.org) and a program for car donations and house donations, and claims to have built hundreds of new homes, demolished hundreds of gutted homes, and renovated hundreds of homes as well. He explains that his organization has partnered with several other organizations in the past, including Habitat for Humanity.
Mr. George explains that when he first came to the Service Day target neighborhood a few days earlier, the street had been completely flooded with a standing pool of water, there were three burned out shells of buildings directly next to the new building that Mr.
Dr. Adnan Hammad, the Director of Community Health and Research of ACCESS, said that “this is a beautiful project,” with different communities coming together, and that in fact all of us are in the same boat. He said that as communities grow larger and larger, it is increasingly important for them to network and work together.

About 50 young women in hijab participated in the event—truly it was a wonderful sight to see such young and pious women working purely to help others and working together with perhaps all the races of man represented and working together in cooperation and friendship.
The site of focus on Saturday was a blighted neighborhood just south of the intersection of Grand River and Telegraph roads.
Judging from the smiles, cooperation and laughter of all in attendance, and judging based on the focussed work the volunteers did, ACCESS was correct to reorient the project—this engendered a deep and sincere sense of affection between all of the many diverse workers and beneficiaries of the program.

Many large organizations participated in Saturday’s event, including among others Loew’s, Home Depot, Life for Relief and Development, ACCESS, Motor City Blight Busters, volunteers from the University of Michigan Dearborn and Eastern Michigan University. Also present were two representatives (Lois Nembhard and Amy Hetrick) of the Corps for National and Community Service, who fund the Americorps program which helps newly graduated volunteers to repay $4,725 of their student debts—ACCESS has about 25 Americorps volunteers, who earn at most a $10,600 stipend for a year of work.

Muslim organizations who participated included YMA (Young Muslims of America), which is associated with the Islamic Center of America on Ford Road.

ACCESS contact people for the event were Jamie Kim and Arwa Algharazi, who did a great job communicating with the media. Also present were several very high level staffers of ACCESS, including Taleb Salhab, the National Outreach Director, and Hannan Deep, ACCESS’s Director of Communications.

Everyone who attended was proud to be present and showed so much happiness to be able to participate in such a positive occasion.

GBIC’s Grand Opening a Success

Grand Blanc—May 20—The Grand Blanc Islamic Center, located at 1479 Bladwin Road (close to the Genesys Medical Center between Grand Blanc and Fenton roads on Baldwin Rd), held a large, very well-organized and successful grand opening this Saturday.

Roughly 400 people (about half non-Muslim) were present for the gathering, which provided an open invitation to Flint-area Muslims and non-Muslims. In attendance were several of Southeast Michigan’s prominent imams (including Imam Moosa of the Bloomfield Unity Center, Imam Ali of the Muslim Community of the Western Suburbs (MCWS—the Canton mosque), and Shaykh Ahmad (hafiz) Mabrouk of the Bloomfield Unity Center).

Fluid Visions, owned by Mr. Jameel Syed, coordinated all of the logistics for the event, generating news interest and stories (even reaching to local ABC television news) and inviting reporters from the ethnic and mainstream media to attend. The dapper twenty-something Mr. Syed, who claims GBIC imam al-Galaeini as his teacher, conducted an extremely polished event; with his fast words, smooth shave, mirror sunglasses, cologne and blue suit, he looked as much like a hollywood agent as a mosque’s representative. Mr. Syed also tried to buck the trend of centuries of Muslim tradition by insisting that every step of the grand opening happen on time, which in fact he managed to do with some success after cajoling Imam al-Galaeni and others to adhere to the schedule.

In describing the event and the mosque itself, Mr. Syed and GBIC board-member Dr. Hesham Gayar emphasized several important points. They emphasized first—in response to rumored disquiet among the Flint Islamic Center’s (FIC) leadership over the new local masjid—that the GBIC is not intended to compete with the Flint Islamic Center on Corunna road—as evidence they noted that two GBIC board members also serve on the board of the FIC (Dr. Gayar and Dr. Ahmed Hannan). They argued, also, that the two mosques share resources—GBIC members send their children to school at the Genesee Academy of the FIC and use the FIC’s generous space and gymnasium/auditorium. The FIC and GBIC communities maintain good relations, as is also evidenced by Imam Galaeini’s prominent attendance at recent events at the FIC, and by his offering classes at the FIC.

Dr. Gayar explained quite compellingly that most doctors work at several hospitals, so while working at Genesys they can attend prayers at GBIC, and while they are at Hurley or McLaren they can attend prayers at the FIC.

The grand opening organizers also wanted to emphasize to Muslim communities interested in building mosques that they had been able to establish the GBIC facilities without debt or interest. Such an achievement is in part a reflection of the demographics of the mosque itself, which is largely composed of established practising first-generation physicians from Syria, Egypt, and the subcontinent, and also a reflection of the relatively modest (if attractive) proportions of the mosque itself.

Mr. Syed explained that the Muslim population of Grand Blanc is burgeoning, and said it was difficult for some Grand Blanc Muslims to journey all the way to the FIC for prayers, so there had been compelling pressure to establish a new local masjid.

Mr. Syed, wisely, invited many local officials to the grand opening, including several legislators, the local mayor, chief of police, fire department officials, the president of the University of Michigan, Flint, and other educators and several clergy members from area churches. Many clergy members in fact did come to the event, as did Michigan Senator Deb Cherry and the Grand Blanc Chief of Police, Dave Stan, who quietly and sincerely offered his help in case the mosque is disturbed by anyone.

Companies that sponsored the opening included the Islamic Association of North America (IANA) and Riyaz Ahmad, who donated books for free (including translations of the Qur`an for the non-Muslim visitors). Some vendors provided discounted services, including Fluid Visions, and Badawest. Four Seasons Landscaping also helped in preparing the mosque grounds for the event. The event was paid for almost entirely by members of the board of directors of the masjid.

After everyone had registered at the front entrance and put on his/her name tag, the speaking portion of the event began inside the mosque at 3 p.m.

Dr. Jandisi spoke first, generously welcoming everyone to the event and in a nice metaphor explaining that Muslims are like the lovable Shrek, who when unknown to people seems dangerous and is attacked by local villagers, but when known is loved by those around him. Dr. Jandisi emphasized that all those present should take advantage of the opportunity to meet one another, and said the success of the grand opening would lie in whether non-Muslims in attendance were able to walk away with phone numbers and points of contact within the Muslim community.

Dr. Sayid Shukairy was the keynote speaker at the event. He, like Mr. Jameel Syed, claims Imam al-Galaeini as his teacher. In his carefully prepared speech he dove into statistics about Muslim immigration to America and explained that mosques exist as places for communal prayer. Echoing the speech of Dr. Jandisi, Mr. Shukairy said a mosque is like a spiritual light house, and he mentioned mosques which provide community services like soup kitchens, schools, and health care services.

The grand opening’s speakers explained that the mosque was open to the non-Muslims in attendance, and encouraged them to make contact and exchange phone numbers with Muslims, and to direct their questions to the imam of the mosque, Imam al-Galaeni.

Next there was a huge banquet, held under a white tent outside the mosque and catered by Badawest, perhaps the best Middle Eastern restaurant in Flint—the non-Muslim guests were graciously implored to eat first as a sign of welcome.

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