Largest Arab American community nonprofit celebrates 47 years of service
Nearly 2,000 guests gathered Saturday evening to celebrate ACCESS—the nation’s largest Arab American community nonprofit organization—and its 47 years of service at its Annual Dinner that took place at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center.
The theme for ACCESS’ 47th Annual Dinner, From the Neighborhood to the Nation, commemorated its growth over more than four and a half decades of service to communities across the U.S. and celebrated the role of innovation in social change. The nonprofit utilized this anniversary to celebrate and reflect on its many achievements, highlight the important contributions of Arab Americans and America’s immigrants, and remind the communities it serves that the organization stands united with them as they face increased challenges over their unfair portrayal and treatment.
ACCESS also spotlighted its 2018 Arab American of the Year, accomplished and widely respected Silicon Valley tech industry pioneer, entrepreneur and digital innovator Omar Tawakol.
Tawakol, an Egyptian American, who immigrated to the U.S. as a child—is the Chief Executive Officer of Voicera, a company that leverages A.I. (artificial intelligence) technology to harness the power of voice in the workplace. Voicera offers ‘Eva,’ the world’s first in-meeting A.I. assistant. Voicera was established in 2017 and is supported by a variety of corporate investors, including Google, Microsoft, Cisco and Salesforce.
Prior to joining Voicera, Tawakol founded and was CEO of BlueKai—the leading data exchange and data management platform company in the advertising industry. Oracle acquired BlueKai in 2014. At Oracle, Tawakol served as Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Oracle Data Cloud (ODC). Through organic growth and acquisition, the ODC became the largest ‘data-as-a-service’ business in the marketing industry, serving 97 of the top 100 U.S. digital marketers.
“I am deeply honored to accept this award. It is an even greater honor to be placed in the distinguished ranks of past ACCESS honorees who are an inspiration to me and to many other Arab Americans,” said Tawakol.
In addition to recognizing the incredible local and international impact of its 2018 Arab American of the Year, ACCESS also provided the stage to Palestinian comedienne Suzie Afridi, who opened the program with her witty and self-deprecating humor. Currently residing in the upper west side of Manhattan, Afridi is the comedienne behind the blog, SusieSaysSo, along with the popular monthly comedy show, Amreeka, where Afridi produces, performs and curates the show. She uses her comedy as a tool to promote discussion around issues that matter to her as a woman, mother and activist.
Afridi captured attendees with a witty original monologue created specifically for the ACCESS Annual Dinner, centered around issues that Arab Americans often face. Her routine set a tone for an evening of honoring achievements and celebrating community.
The celebratory evening was hosted by president of GW Smith & Associates, Gerald Smith, and for the first time ever, WDIV Channel 4 News Anchor, Sandra Ali. Ali, an Egyptian American, has had a remarkable career in broadcasting, and was applauded for highlighting the Arab American community with the WDIV series “Arab in America.”
In honor of the passing of respected community leader, Arab American businessman and philanthropist, Mr. Russell J. Ebeid, ACCESS carried on the proud tradition of highlighting aspiring local students through the late Russell J. Ebeid Family Fund Scholarship presentation, hosted by the Center for Arab American Philanthropy—an ACCESS institution. A special memorial presentation was given to highlight the contributions and impact of the late Mr. Ebeid.
“Every year, the ACCESS Annual Dinner serves as a wonderful reminder of the power of communities coming together and working toward real social change,” states ACCESS Executive Director and CEO Hassan Jaber. “We are always proud to do our part to empower communities, elevate their voices and help them impact the world that we live in. This event is such a beautiful demonstration of that commitment.”
The ACCESS Annual Dinner is the largest of its kind in the nation, bringing together nearly 2,000 people annually, including local, state and national officials and leaders from government, business, labor and nonprofit organizations. The organization’s unique, comprehensive service delivery model, now comprised of nearly 120 programs, aims to meet the needs of people through a holistic approach that empowers both individuals and communities to impact social change. Through its human services programming and its three national institutions, ACCESS pursues its vision of a just and equitable society for all.
Grounded in a grassroots commitment to empowerment, ACCESS is the largest Arab American community nonprofit in the U.S., with a 47-year history of nonprofit of excellence. Guided by our vision of a just and equitable society for all, with the full participation of Arab Americans, we empower communities in Southeast Michigan to improve their economic, social and cultural well-being through an extensive network of health, education, employment and social services programming. Our mission extends nationally through our highly esteemed institutions—The National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC), the Arab American National Museum (AANM) and the Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP)—which are focused on making an impact through advocacy, the arts and philanthropy.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.
"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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