By Adil James, MMNS
Dearborn–October 24–A unique fundraiser in Michiganâ€™s Muslim community is one that attracts people from Flint to Lansing, from congressmen to gubernatorial candidates, and which generates more than $400,000 in the space of only a few hours, and to which generous community members donate everything from banquet halls to catered food. Just such an event was the â€œPakistan Cry for Helpâ€ fundraiser held Sunday at the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn.
Arranged by Saleem Siddiqui in response to the terrible need of Pakistani flood victims, with the help and sponsorship of many Southeast Michigan organizations and individuals, this particular fundraiser was a huge success. Event organizers estimated the crowd at 700. Many different organizations participated, from Islamic Relief, to HDF, to ISPU, CIOM, AFMI, APPNA, MAPI, and CPR.
The event attracted top-level politicians, such as Michigan gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero, congressman John Conyers, and congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee. The evening was dominated by the Democratic party which unfortunately was the only one of the two parties to send campaigning candidates to speak. Another speaker was Jocelyn Benson, who is running for secretary of state.
A rarity for fundraisers was the donation of a huge amount, $100,000, from a local business, Northwestern Mutual, to the nightâ€™s pot.
The genesis for this event was the night documented in TMOâ€™s previous article about Saleem Siddiqui, during which Mr. Siddiqui could not sleep after having seen pictures of devastated Pakistan, and during which he determined that he would begin to help. (http://muslimobserver.com//?p=6973).
Mr. Siddiqui was immediately supported by many different people, one man generously donating convention space at the Hyatt, another providing catering service at cost, and many many others providing their support to bring the event to fruition. In only two months the dedicated team was able to put together perhaps one of the single best fundraising events this reporter has attended in the Michigan community in six years.
The evening was scheduled to begin relatively early, at 5:30PM, although in fact it started somewhat later than that with a buffet dinner.
Professor Saeed Khan of Wayne State University began the evening by giving the shocking facts of the flooding, the most amazing statistic being that one fifth of Pakistan is under water.
Professor Khan welcomed the central entertainment of the evening to the podium, Salman Ahmad, who has performed with different bands including Vital Signs and currently Junoon, which is South Asiaâ€™s biggest and longest-lasting rock band. He has also performed one album as a solo artist. He teaches at Queens College, City University of New York, and is a UN Goodwill Ambassador.
Ahmad began by telling the story of a woman who after hours of walking to keep her baby out of the water was forced by fatigue to give her baby to a stranger, saying â€œplease make sure he lives.â€
There was a video which showed many pictures of the people suffering in Pakistan, and showed the terrible power of the water as it destroyed buildings.
Then singer Ahmad emphasized the spirit of unity among the people in the room and sang â€œUm Tun Na Na Na,â€ a song which he said would help the audience to â€œconnect, tonight,â€ through the universal medium of music.
He welcomed the political leaders who had come, from John Conyers to Mayor Bernero, Jocelyn Benson, and David Leyton, who is running for Michigan attorney general.
He asked the audience to show through their singing that â€œAmerica does care… emphasize the power of connectivity.â€
Mr. Anis Ahmad, one of the event organizers, then spoke, beginning from the time of his first call from Saleem Siddiqui and explaining how he had contacted his employer, Northwestern Mutual, and asked them for help–the CEO of Northwestern Mutual surprised him with very strong generosity, giving $100,000.
Mr. Ahmad asked the CEO why he had â€œgone beyond my expectations,â€ and the CEO said, â€œbecause itâ€™s the right thing to do,â€ explaining that more companies should get involved in such a positive way in the world.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee then spoke at the fundraiser–Lee is frequently in the pages of TMO, because she lives in Houston and has frequently attended community events covered by TMO reporter Ilyas Choudry.
Representative Lee was a bachelorâ€™s student at Yale, and a law student at UVA, and was rated by Congressional Quarterly as one of the 50 most effective members of congress.
Lee was fresh from the campaign trail, with the midterm elections looming less than two weeks away, and in fact her voice showed both the strain of her campaign efforts and the conviction, intelligence, and dedication that lie at the foundation of her political success.
She emphasized her having founded the Pakistan Caucus in the House of Representatives six years previous, and her association with Houston City Councilman MJ Khan. She spoke of her efforts after 9/11 to ensure that Pakistanis were protected against civil rights abuses, saying â€œnot on our watch.â€
Saying â€œI donâ€™t play around the edges,â€ Lee expressed her commitment to Pakistan through different stories that showed her deep professional attachment to the country, from her meeting with Benazir Bhutto before that womanâ€™s death, to her knowledge of businessmen and academicians, to her visits to Pakistan after the natural disasters that befell Pakistan over the years.
Virg Bernero took the podium and told a funny and engaging story that showed his good nature and sense of humor, where he intervened in a situation in Meijer to help someone with â€œan honest face.â€ He emphasized the importance of stepping forward sometimes when no one else is available to step forward.
Salman Ahmed returned to the stage and told the fascinating story of his emigration to the United States and of his initial isolation, where his two friends were radio and television, and then his blossoming through a turning point in his life, when he attended the last Led Zeppelin concert and saw Jimmy Page playing the song â€œKashmirâ€ on a two-neck guitar.
The evening continued with one more video documenting the devastation from the flood, and fundraising.
Surprisingly, many of the donations for the event came from a single Michigan community that is geographically fairly isolated from Southeast Michigan and not usually in attendance at its events, namely Flint. Members of the Flint Islamic Center gave more than a quarter of the nightâ€™s proceeds, despite being numerically only a very small percentage of those in attendance.
Salman Ahmad then played his guitar and sang songs into the night to entertain the guests at this very special fundraising event which distinguished itself in light and success from the many other fundraisers that have taken place nearby.