Voice of the Voiceless – Perspective of a Social Justice Activist & Arab American

July is all about development in the pita-consuming region. Below is the acceptance speech by Andy “Anas” Shallal, both a business and social entrepreneur who has facilitated talent development opportunities among many in the Middle Eastern American and Muslim Americans in Washington, DC.  How?  Aside from being a progressive activist for over thirty years, Shallal has founded a chain of social enterprises – Busboys & Poets –  that operates as a family restaurant, bookstore, and most importantly, a public space equipped with a theater/stage.

Busboys & Poets is a series of four restaurants across Washington, DC that gives a voice to the voiceless artist, activist, and non-profit.  But its popularity has grown because of its art/activist/food concept so much so that Denver, Colorado wants a Busboys & Poets of its own.  In 2013, the city of Denver will get its wish.  Why is it so popular?   Meet the 21st century social enterprises that connects both activists with Americans who wish to be more socially and globally aware.  Busboys & Poets, is  focused on community building.  In keeping with Busboys & Poets’ belief in fair trade, two locations partnered with the Global Exchange to run a fair-trade store of handicrafts from the around the world.  In another location, Shallal partnered with Teaching for Change, another non-profit to make books on activism and socially conscious topics available to the public.

Last month, Shallal won the Hala Maksoud Leadership Award by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) for his his commitment to social justices causes and supporting community development efforts both in the US and abroad as an anti-war activist.  Please see Shallal’s acceptance speech for what inspires him to continue carrying on social justice causes, working with grass-roots organizations, and connecting across communities.

Please send your submissions to info@pitapolicyconsulting.com. 

First Post: Tech Crunch published “The Arab World Has Tech Talent To Sustain It Beyond The Clones” by Mehrunisa Qayyum, founder of PITAPOLICY and Huffington Post Blogger.   On that note, don’t forget to check out tech entrepreneurs survey!

Second Post: #MENAsocent: First DC-MENA Tweetup=#Success

Third Post: Prospects for Development After Elections

Fourth Post: Prospects for Development: An Exercise in Patience

Acceptance Speech by Progressive Activist & Social Entrepreneur, Anas Shallal, given on June 24th, 2012 at the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

“I want to thank the ADC for giving me this great honor.  This is doubly special since I knew Haleh Maksoud and worked closely with her on several issues including the then looming war against Iraq back in 1996.  Haleh understood the meaning and importance of grass roots activism and the value of nurturing and advancing the next generation of activists and change makers.

I am thrilled at the new leadership of ADC under the guidance of Warren David and I am looking forward to working with him and Nabil and others on many fronts.  I look forward to seeing this organization become once again the true voice for the voiceless – an organization that is truly representative of the energy and activism that fills these convention halls year after year.  I want to urge the leadership of the organization to become bolder, to fight harder, to stand taller and to speak truth to power.

Frederick Douglas – the great African American Abolitionist said that “power never concedes anything without a demand, it never has and it never will”.  We here at the ADC must take heed in such a statement and understand that every civil rights struggle in this country required principled leadership that did not sell out its constituency by the lure of a seat at the table.

The problem we have now is not that we don’t have a seat at the table, its that each time we are invited to sit at the table we walk away hungry.  It seems that too often we tend to settle for crumbs.

Its time for Arab American leaders to stop settling for crumbs and its time for them to demand nothing less than the whole loaf.    A seat at the table may serve the person sitting there but too often it does not serve the people they represent.  For a period of ADC history, we have had such leaders – leaders who were willing and continue to sell out the civil rights and aspirations of Arab Americans for the lure of being invited to the White House or being part of the mainstream.  They are afraid to speak out and keep their mouth shut for fear that they would never be invited again.  These leaders were misinformed at best, and unwilling at worse, to do the hard work that is needed to achieve the lofty goals of this great organization.  Perhaps they would have been served well to have read Frederick Douglas or studied the late historian and activist Howard Zinn who said that you cannot be neutral on a moving train.

Ladies and Gentlemen, these are not neutral times and we cannot afford to be neutral.  We don’t need another Arab American organization that panders to the mainstream.  If we continue to be polite and keep our mouth shut we will be swept aside and left to the dustbin of history.

We are not the mainstream – we are the conscious of America. We must not settle for the America that is but aspire to the America that could be.  The America of liberty and fairness and equal rights for everyone.

We must also understand that America is a schizophrenic country and we, many of us Americans by choice, are its medication.

Langston Hughes, the great African American poet who lived in the early part of the 20th century spoke about the duality of America – the America that is and the America that could be – and admonished us to continue to fight for the America that could be despite all its failings.
He wrote in his poem – Let America be America again about this duality …

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)

He continued at the end of the poem he wrote…

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!”


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