Team members from ACCESS gather to launch their new book at the Arab American National Museum. (Launch-event photos by Charles Baeder, used courtesy of ACCESS.)
By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit.com
This week, our publishing house launched the first of six books, in partnership with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, telling the story of innovative programs to improve the school readiness of young children in low-income communities. The new book, ACCESS to School, tells readers nationwide about an unusual preschool program in a community that is attracting immigrants from rural Yemen fleeing the ongoing, lethal turbulence in their homeland.
That neighborhood also is home to many Hispanic-American families and one pleasant surprise in this ACCESS program are the friendly multi-lingual friendships that have formed between immigrant families from various parts of the world. These new Americans aren’t planning to stay locked in ethnic enclaves; they are eager to form cross-cultural relationships.
The book is an inspiring, true story about this program in Detroit, Michigan, that begins by teaching parents English as a Second Language—and then goes on to help the parents prepare their pre-schoolers to start attending public schools. It’s a huge challenge. At least some of parents in the program come from remote rural areas where they never had an opportunity to attend school.
The success of the Detroit program, developed by educators from the Michigan nonprofit ACCESS, is nothing short of amazing. In the book, readers discover how the program was started, the challenges educators faced in launching this creative program and responses from children and parents who have taken this training.
Overall, the book shows how similar these immigrants’ stories are to the beloved stories told in countless American families about ancestors who crossed the world to contribute in healthy ways to communities in the U.S.
“There is also a larger reason that our publishing house is proud to be working with United Way and ACCESS to send this book out to readers nationwide. All Americans need to hear this kind of inspiring story about Arab and Muslim immigration,” I said this week—speaking as Editor of our publishing house at the launch event for the book at the Arab American National Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate that originally was established by ACCESS.
“In 2016, we are hearing more toxic anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric in national politics than we have heard in more than a decade,” I said. “This book vividly reminds readers that America is a nation of immigrants. We need to be reminded that the strong American values these recent immigrants share are right in line with the stories told in countless American families whose ancestors arrived over the past century.
“This year, too many Americans are publicly reviving stereotypes about immigrants from the Arab world as if such new Americans bring dangerous values with them. In fact, we have the Islamic world to thank for preserving the world’s ancient wisdom and values for all of us. Most Americans don’t even know this vital chapter of our world history. This new book is all about educational innovation in one neighborhood today. But, as we talk about the importance of this new book—we also can say that this first book in the United Way series comes out of a community that historically has valued literacy as a way to improve our world.”
INNOVATION IN THE MUSLIM WORLD
What does that comment mean? The audience at the museum understood the reference, explained in historical displays in one gallery after another. Here’s some background on that vital part of our shared history:
Today, we would have lost much of the world’s classic literature if not for the centers of translation and publishing, including the creation of diverse public libraries, that were hallmarks of the Islamic Golden Age. In the 8th and 9th century, Arab-Muslim scientists embraced research into mathematics, glass-making, astronomy, medicine and chemistry.
The Quran teaches that scholarship is a God-given talent and, in the Golden Age, great libraries were organized to preserve our collective wisdom. As the centuries passed, the Islamic world was a global center for map making, mechanical engineering, calligraphy and a wide range of talents used in publishing.
Care to read more? Just one example is the great library and center of scholarship known as the House of Wisdom, described in Wikipedia.
AMERICAN DREAMS & OUR CHILDREN
The final story I shared at the book launch involves perhaps the greatest Arab-American poet: Khalil Gibran, also profiled in Wikipedia. Gibran was born into a Maronite Christian family, but throughout his life he wrote about themes at the heart of many of the world’s great religious traditions.
In addressing the crowd at the book launch, I pointed to the poster-size cover of the new book and said, “Just look at the eager faces of the children on this book’s cover. Here in this museum, one of the main galleries opens with an exhibit on the famous poet Khalil Gibran. Gathered here today, we all know and celebrate this world-class poet. But, you may have forgotten that he arrived in Boston’s south side in 1895 at age 12 with a mother so poor that she had to work very hard to support him.
“The transformative moment in young Khalil’s life was his enrollment in a program that today we would call English as a Second Language—much like the families in this ACCESS program are doing more than 120 years later!
“That early opportunity helped him to become the Khalil Gibran the whole world celebrates today. Now, look again at the faces of the children on this new book cover. We could be looking at the faces of future Khalil Gibrans.”