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Silence and Solidarity - Observance of Arab American History Month

pexels-ono-kosuki-6000056In the quiet hallways of my middle school alma mater, where I began my journey as a seventh-grade reading teacher, a profound moment reshaped my approach to education. It was amidst the chaos of 9/11, a day etched in sorrow and disbelief, that my heart grew heavy for two of my students—siblings of Arab American descent. They walked into my classroom, unaware of the tragedy that had unfolded and the wave of scrutiny their community would soon endure. This pivotal moment ignited my commitment to fostering understanding and advocacy within the educational sphere, a commitment that has guided me ever since.

Arab American Heritage Month stands as a vital time to amplify these often-unheard voices and narratives. Reflecting on this, I'm reminded of Queen Rania Al Abdullah's powerful words: "We are stronger when we listen and smarter when we share." These words resonate deeply with me, encapsulating the essence of our role as educators in a diverse society—to listen intently to our students and to share their rich cultural narratives with our broader school communities.

Echoing this sentiment, Ahmed Zewail's observation that people across the Middle East yearn for liberty, justice, and a better life—a life marked by quality education for their children—strikes a chord with me. It underscores the universal aspirations that bind us, regardless of our backgrounds.

This month offers us an unparalleled opportunity to delve into the wealth of resources available, aiming to bring the stories, contributions, and culture of Arab Americans into our classrooms. Whether it's exploring the Virtual Bookshelf curated by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which highlights Arab-American heritage, or engaging with the University of Illinois Chicago's Arab American Cultural Center's outreach programs designed to foster positive experiences and understanding, the tools at our disposal are both rich and varied.

Moreover, the Arab American National Museum provides an array of resources specifically designed for educators, offering virtual tours and immersive experiences into the history, arts, culture, and contributions of Arab Americans. By integrating these materials and embracing the wisdom of figures like Queen Rania and Ahmed Zewail, we can cultivate a more inclusive, empathetic, and compassionate educational environment.

As I reflect on my own experiences, from the somber silence that marked the tragedy of 9/11 in my school to the ongoing challenges of combating prejudice and misinformation, the importance of our role as educators has never been clearer. We are more than just teachers; we are guardians, advocates, and beacons of light for our students, guiding them through the complexities of societal prejudices and misconceptions.

The path to fostering inclusivity and understanding for Arab American students, however, is fraught with challenges, magnified in the wake of events that fuel xenophobia and racism. But we are not without support. A plethora of resources, from the National Endowment for the Humanities Virtual Bookshelf to the Arab American National Museum's educator-focused materials, stands ready to aid us in this essential endeavor.

Our silence in the face of injustice speaks volumes. As educators, our advocacy, understanding, and support for Arab American students and their heritage are not mere acts of solidarity but are fundamental to the very essence of education. By weaving these resources into our curriculum and dialogues, we can make significant strides toward a more inclusive and equitable educational landscape.

I urge my fellow educators to explore these resources, integrate them into their teaching, and join in elevating the voices and stories of Arab Americans. Together, we can light the way forward with empathy, understanding, and unwavering support for all our students, ensuring they are seen, heard, and valued, irrespective of their background.

As we observe Arab American History Month, let's move beyond mere recognition. Let's engage in meaningful dialogues, educate ourselves and others, and stand against the injustices that continue to impact Arab Americans and other marginalized communities. Our strength lies in our diversity and in our collective willingness to support one another.

Resources & Recommendations for Educators

Virtual Bookshelf: Arab-American Heritage Month (NEH) - A collection curated by the National Endowment for the Humanities featuring books, seminars, exhibitions, and films on Arab-American culture. This resource is designed to explore and celebrate the diversity of the Arab American experience.

Arab American Cultural Center - University of Illinois Chicago (ArabAmCC UIC) - Offers an Elementary School Educational Outreach Program that aims to highlight the contributions of Arab Americans and promote positive experiences. The program includes interactive presentations, artifacts, and culturally enriching activities such as folk dance, writing in Arabic, and music, facilitating a comprehensive understanding of this region's rich diversity all while making Arab and Middle Eastern, and North African cultures more accessible to young learners.

Arab American National Museum - For Educators - Provides a rich array of resources tailored for educators, including a Virtual Tour Package, guided tours, lesson plans, and cultural boxes. These tools are intended to deepen understanding of Arab American history, arts, culture, and contributions.

Afeef Nessouli - A journalist and audio producer known for covering a wide range of news stories, from global events to cultural narratives. His work, including narrative audio stories and a podcast called "Masrahiya on the 2019 protests in Beirut, offers unique insights into Middle Eastern cultures, intersectional lives of queer and trans-Arab and Muslim citizens, and contemporary issues. Afeef also worked as a producer at “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. His content can serve as an engaging supplement to classroom discussions, providing real-world context to the Arab experience.

Podcasts: - "Kerning Cultures," "Stories from Palestine," and "Voices of the Middle East and North Africa" are recommended for their insightful narratives and discussions on Middle Eastern cultures, histories, and contemporary issues. These podcasts can enrich educators' toolkits by providing auditory resources that complement classroom discussions and foster deeper understanding and empathy.