Hi everyone! It is Zekiye, VISTA Leader with Michigan Nonprofit Association, here to talk about a recent opportunity I had to attend MOVE: An Arab-American Summit to Advance Social Change. Organized by ACCESS and made possible by The W.K. Kellogg Foundation and The Kresge Foundation, MOVE (mobilize, organize, vocalize, and empower) is a conference that specifically aims to address social issues impacting Arab-Americans that is also led by Arab-Americans.
I first learned about this opportunity through a fellow VISTA Leader, Brittany, who serves with the National Network for Arab American Communities in Toledo, Ohio. She saw my name at VISTA Leader Training and started a conversation with me about my family’s background. For those readers that don’t know, my family is Turkish, and my name is my great-grandmother’s. She followed up with information on the conference in Dearborn, thinking I might be interested.
I decided to volunteer in the morning, as volunteers had free access to the conference day they worked provided they serve a three-hour shift. I woke up at five in the morning, drove to Dearborn, and started my shift at 7:45 a.m. to make sure that I could get my volunteer hours in before I missed the sessions I thought would be most applicable during my year of service, as no one I directly serve identifies as Arab. The first three hours of my day involved me setting up various rooms used for breakout sessions, directing participants to registration tables and rooms they were looking for, and staffing a table for Arts & Scraps, a nonprofit in Detroit that distributes recycled art materials to low income children in their mobile arts and crafts bus. We decorated paper bags that kids could fill with supplies and take home.
After my shift I attended a breakout session on “Digital Organizing Done Right” which emphasized tools and methods for building an organization’s media presence specifically through social media channels. As this is a component of my work as a VISTA Leader, creating a cohort and community of VISTAs dispersed across the state, I found this workshop helpful as we dissected real (and successful) media campaigns. I then attended a session titled “Entitled Millennials: Turning Passion Into Action,” which emphasized youth engagement through service and volunteer opportunities. While many of the opportunities highlighted in this segment were not applicable to my cohort, many speaking points around garnering engagement and building community are easily transferable to the work I will be doing throughout my service year.
While these sessions were supremely helpful and able to be practically applied, the space itself was more meaningful. I didn’t go to the conference with an organization in attendance and I didn’t go in knowing anyone, though I did run into Brittany and was able to talk for a few minutes. I also went into this space as a white woman. While my family is Middle Eastern, we aren’t Arab. Being in a space I don’t wholly belong (and wasn’t designed for me), however welcoming, was challenging. It was also really life giving, and if you haven’t found yourself in a similar space I encourage you to seek them out. It will be decentralizing, but it will also expand your worldview and help you develop understanding and compassion for communities other than your own.