Today, I had the pleasure of serving on a panel that explored race and diversity in metropolitan Detroit. The panel was organized by the Detroit Orientation Institute (DOI) for Wayne State University’s Alternative Spring Break Detroit (ASBD). I’ve served on similar panels in the past for the DOI, but this one was unique in that the audience was made up of undergraduate students that willingly gave up their spring break to participate in an educational program in the town where they go to school. Amazing, right? The ASBD program seeks to facilitate a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, Detroit. The weeklong program brings together approximately 52 students and it includes educational programs and volunteer service. Our panel this morning included representatives from the Asian, Latino, Jewish, Arab and African American communities.
My hat goes off to all of the students who participate in this program. The cohort was engaging and curious, and they presented myself and the other panelist with intelligent questions. I had several students approach me following the discussion to inquire about volunteer opportunities with our nonprofit organization. I hope I inspired these young people half as much as they inspired me!
A Tweet from an ASBD participant
I love finishing the work week on a positive note. Yesterday, in addition to hosting students from the University of Michigan’s graduate program in Museum Studies, the AANM received a pair of prominent visitors. First, a dear friend of the AANM brought Bothaina Kamel – Egyptian television anchor, activist, and politician – to the museum for a tour. Kamel, a celebrity in her homeland, is the first woman to run for the presidency of Egypt. She was pleased with her visit and had nothing but praise for our institution.
Additionally, George Takei toured the museum and spent time talking with staff. Takei is best known for his roles as Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek. Additionally, he is a human rights activist and a huge supporter of our sister institution, the Japanese American National Museum. Takei impressed me with his intelligence, candor and humor. He’s played a significant role in the past when the AANM was consulting with the JANM during the development phase of our institution. This was his first time actually seeing our museum. The timing of Takei’s visit was perfect, giving that we are currently hosting the JANM’s exhibit, Fighting for Democracy, in a temporary gallery. It was great sharing ideas about museums and discussing the roles our institutions play within their communities. Once again I was reminded of the special relationship that exists between the Japanese American and Arab American communities.
A big thanks to staff for making these visits a success. I am so proud to work with colleagues that take their jobs seriously and show initiative. They are the reason we continue to succeed as a new museum.
George Takei visits the AANM
Last Sunday, three colleagues and I participated in the Fight for Air Climb Detroit. Despite injuries and minimal training, we all managed to climb the 70 floors (1000+ steps) without too much strain. My finishing time was 18:10. It was a great event and we managed to raise $435 to support the American Lung Association. Thanks to those who generously contributed to support our effort.
The tower we climbed at the Ren Cen
One more floor...
I just finished a four-day trip to Beirut, Lebanon for work. It was such an intense experience. My family immigrated from Lebanon about 100 years ago and this was my first time visiting the “homeland.” So, you can imagine my excitement leading up to the trip. This excitement grew tenfold during the plane’s descent into the city, which offered stunning views of snowcapped mountains and a beautiful Mediterranean shoreline. Despite the short stay, I explored and experienced many great things in this amazing, cosmopolitan city.
The purpose of the visit was to meet with Beirut-based arts organizations and to explore potential collaboration. The four organizations we meet with – Zico House, the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut Art Center, and Ashkal Alwan – are all pioneers within their areas of art production, documentation, and presentation. Each organization has inspiring and visionary leaders, which leaves me very optimistic about the possibility of working with these institutions in the future. There is much work to be done in documenting and further developing art production and appreciation within the Arab diaspora.
In addition to the meetings, we (I traveled with a colleague) spent a great amount of time exploring the city. Beirut is an amazing juxtaposition, in so many ways. One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new city is to explore it by foot. Speaking to this, we logged numerous miles each day trekking from neighborhood to neighborhood. Some highlights include walking the Corniche and viewing Pigeon Rocks from Raouche; visiting Saint George Maronite Cathedral; standing in Martyr’s Square while watching the memorial service for Rafic Hariri on the seventh anniversary of his assassination; discovering Roman ruins, which included baths, a cardo maximus and colonnade in the central business district; walking through the beautiful campus at the American University of Beirut; experiencing the amazing architecture and diversity of the numerous religious institutions downtown; spending time in the monumental Nejmeh Square; and learning about the city’s archaeological past in the crypt museum at the St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
In hindsight, walking is really the only way to experience Beirut. Cabbies will summon you with “Taxi! Taxi!” on every street corner. However, despite the lack of public transportation and the thrill of a hair-raising jaunt through the city’s congested streets in an overpriced cab, I recommend only riding in a taxi when traveling longer distances (two miles or more). Otherwise, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to truly appreciate Beirut.
I also enjoyed exploring the Lebanese culture through food. I had the pleasure of dining at local institutions, including Cafe Younes in Hamra, Le Chef in Gemmayzeh and Falafel Sahyoun in Ras El-Nabeh (the latter two were featured on Anthony Bourdain’s return trip to Beirut). A breakfast of freshly baked menaeesh from a corner vendor is a must; the zaatar spice mixture is simply amazing. Bliss Street near the AUB campus offers many cheap but delicious restaurants including Food 101 and Zaatar w Zeit. And then there are the numerous sweet shops offering delectable treats! And, last but not least, there is Tawlet at Souk el Tayeb. This restaurant is an open kitchen where each day a local producer/cook prepares typical food from his/her region. Suzanne Doueihy and her husband Sarkis served an amaging Zgharta-influenced meal that included kebbeh nayeh, kebbeh bassalieh, batata mehshieh, moujaddara bi loubieh, el’ass bi toum and maamoul mad bi loz. Tawlet is not to be missed when visiting Beirut.
I really hope I’ll have the opportunity to return to Lebanon sometime soon. In addition to a more in-depth exploration of Beirut, I want to get out of the city to visit Jbeil (Byblos), Tripoli, Tyre, and Baalbek, as well as Hasroun (my family’s village) and Al-Arz (The Cedars) in the mountains. So much to see and experience in this small country…Here are a few iPhone pix I took during my stay. Stay tuned for more pictures from the trip.
Travel references: my map and Foursquare list for Beirut
Pigeon Rocks at Raouche
Rafic Hariri Memorial
I’m trying out Google Earth as a travel planning and documentation tool. I’ll be spending close to two weeks in Amman, Jordan and Beirut, Lebanon for work. So far, the maps I’ve created have already help to orient me in these two cities. This is my first time to both countries and I’ve been warned about the challenges of wayfinding in a region where street names and addresses have little meaning.
My primary goals for utilizing Google Earth are relatively simple. First, while it’s fun to get lost and explore a city, I really don’t want to waste too much unnecessary time trying to figure out where I’m heading. Second, I’m interested in sharing both the pre-planning and highlights from the trip (pictures/places of interest) with family and friends.
I’m hoping to place photos/videos I take throughout the trip on the map once I return home. However, as for now, my pre-travel planning is complete. If you’re curious, red pins indicate locations for meetings; yellow indicates place of interest; I think the other two icons are self-explanatory.
So far, I’m relatively satisfied with the free software. The pre-planning was actually pretty fun. It’s possible to export .kml files from Google Earth and then upload them to “My Places” on Google Maps. This allows for both sharing and collaboration. Not a bad feature if you’re looking for tips from people you know. Additionally, it’s fun to utilize the satellite and street views while utilizing Google Earth. The 3D buildings, photos, and roads layers are incredibly useful as well.
We’ll see how it goes while traveling abroad. More to come…
View Beirut, Lebanon in a larger map
View Jordan in a larger map
On March 4, some colleagues and I will participate in the 2012 Fight for Air Climb in Detroit. The event will take place at the Renaissance Center, which I was surprised to learn is the tallest building in Michigan. The timed climb will cover 70 flights of stairs for a total of 1,035 steps! Sounds serious, no?
I’m really looking forward to this “vertical road race.” The Fight for Air Climb is a sporting event that serves as a fundraiser for the American Lung Association. So, in addition to getting some good exercise, we can raise funds to support important research, advocacy and education towards beating lung disease. Also, it’s a great team building exercise. I only wish we could recruit more of our colleagues!
If you’re so inclined, you can support our team by making a donation here. No amount is too small (or too big!). I thank you in advance for your support!
2012 Fight For Air Climb in Detroit
This past week I had the opportunity to participate in a two-day meeting at the Smithsonian to discuss and examine a new project called the Americans All: The Immigration/Migration Initiative. This is a new Smithsonian-wide project that brings together museums and research centers to document and interpret the history and culture of immigration and migration in the United States. The meeting included representatives from Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Ellis Island Foundation, Institute of Texan Cultures, Japanese American National Museum, National Museum of American Jewish History, Plimoth Plantation, Senator John Heinz History Center, Western Reserve Historical Society, Arab American National Museum, as well as several departments from within the Smithsonian.
Over the course of the two-days, each organization was allotted time to present on relevant immigration projects, such as exhibits and public programs, that take place at their museum. I enjoyed learning how each institution adresses this important, and often controversial, topic. Although we’ve worked with some of these museums in the past, I think new and deeper collaboration will result from partnering on this initiative.
One important outcome of the meeting was to establish collaborative programming on immigration for the near future. The proposed ideas are being synthesized by project staff and will be re-distributed to the partners soon. I suspect a pilot program will launch sometime later this year, so keep an ear to the ground. In addition, the Smithsonian has bigger plans for the future that may include major programs and exhibits (perhaps in 2015/16).
I applaud the Smithsonian for addressing such an important and timely topic. Indeed, I think much is to be gained through this initiative and I suspect it will play an important role in helping to re-examine what it means to be American in the 21st century. If you’re interested in staying abreast of new developments with the project, then I recommend you “like” the Americans All: The Immigration/Migration Initiative Facebook page.
Here’s a copy of the presentation I delivered on Wednesday, January 25:
The AANM’s Little Syria project is picking up steam. We’re wrapping up the RFP process with exhibit designers, our curatorial staff is conducting research and collecting objects for the forthcoming exhibit, and the media is covering the story. We’re off to a good start.
Be sure to like the Little Syria Exhibit Facebook page for updates on the project. Also, if you missed it, there was a story from PRI’s The World, titled Saving New York’s ‘Little Syria’, that was aired on National Public Radio earlier this week. Check it out!
Little Syria Exhibit on Facebook
Looking for something fun to do this weekend? Come check out the annual Arab Film Festival at the Arab American National Museum. This year’s festival, Before The Spring: Alternative Arab Cinema from 2005 to Today, explores films that were produced leading up to the “Arab Spring.” The festival was curated by our friends at ArteEast. You can read more about the festival over at the HuffPost Detroit.
The 2011 Arab Film Festival on HuffPost Detroit
I think it’s impossible to forget one’s first professional job. After all, it is during this time that one learns many valuable lessons on the workplace. One of my first professional experiences was a short-lived “career” as a photojournalist. In addition to freelance work at some of Michigan’s larger daily publications, I completed internships at the Grand Rapids Press and the Saginaw News. While I loved working as a photojournalist – it offered an immense amount of freedom and creativity – I realized at the time that the industry was in the midst of a radical change. This, coupled with the media debacle following the 2000 election, influenced my decision to exit the industry and return to school to pursue additional education. This ranks as one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I now realize the importance of being professionally nimble and pursuing opportunities to attain new knowledge and skills.
Similar to other major industries, Big Media is still undergoing a radical transformation. Regrettably, many employees within this industry are experiencing a profound impact, often negative, on their careers. Earlier today I learned that Booth Newspapers will be laying off 500 of its 1200 employees on January 2, 2012. That’s right, almost 50% of the staff. Booth Newspapers, based in Grand Rapids, owns eight newspapers in the state of Michigan, including the Saginaw News and Grand Rapids Press. While I’m fairly confident that journalism will continue to flourish in the digital age, I can’t help but wonder about the future careers of some of these former employees.
This unfortunate news has reminded me, once again, how important it is to develop new skills and pursue lifelong learning. Nothing is certain. The notion of working in one industry or for one company over the course of an entire career is no longer a reality. Change is constant and professionals need to adapt. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that the average employee will work 10-15 different jobs over the course of a lifetime. Acquiring and refining one’s skills is an absolute must. The business model of the 20th century is obsolete. Looking forward, competition is no longer local; it’s global and it requires mastery of many rapidly changing fields. Empower yourself to take control of your career. Don’t let an industry or employee define you.