DEARBORN HEIGHTS — A 16-year-old junior at Annapolis High School has partnered with a teacher to launch an Arab Student Union (ASU).
Tomasia Suleiman said she was inspired to start an ASU by the growth of the Arab student population at Annapolis High School.
“We have so many international and first generation students coming in,” she said. “I wanted to create a safe space for all of them. Also, as a child of immigrants, I watched my own mother’s struggle as she figured out how to navigate this new world around her. I firsthand witnessed how challenging it can be without the guidance of people who have been through a similar experience. Generational gaps do not change in that aspect, we learn from people like us. Through interacting with new immigrants, I hope that the Arab American students at AHS can use this opportunity to learn more about their Middle Eastern culture. In return, I hope that the new students can learn more about our American culture.”
When Suleiman needed an advisor for the group, she reached out to science teacher Ziad Saad, who has taught high school for four years and is in his first year of teaching in District 7. Prior to teaching high school, Saad taught at a local college.
I am a proud Palestinian and noticed a lack of Arab student representation in our district. Through the Arab Student Union, I would like to be able to spread more awareness about our Arabic culture and history. — Tomasia Suleiman
Saad said that he was glad to be asked to be an advisor.
“I became involved in ASU after Tomasia had reached out to me and asked me if I would like to be an advisor for the group,” he said. “I gladly accepted and we sat down together and I listened to all the great ideas that Tomasia had.”
Suleiman said that the goal is to bring Annapolis together.
“The goal of ASU is to bring unity to Annapolis High School, breaking stereotypes and celebrating diversity,” she said. “We strive to build good relationships among students. We look forward to creating a network of peers that can help other students that might be struggling academically or socially.”
The ASU will be helping incoming immigrant students with their classes, guiding them around the school, and is looking into creating volunteer opportunities for students to help service those in need in the community to give students community service exposure.
“This is a safe space for everyone,” Suleiman said. “Anyone from any background is welcome. In fact, we encourage everyone to get involved. This is a vessel not only to do outreach and education, but also to acclimate and expose our members from Middle Eastern backgrounds to others in a positive setting.”
Suleiman got the idea when she was a sophomore at Annapolis and has been building on it since.
“I am a proud Palestinian and noticed a lack of Arab student representation in our district,” she said. “Through the Arab Student Union, I would like to be able to spread more awareness about our Arabic culture and history. Ideally, I would like to work with other community outreach organizations within our area to create volunteering opportunities for members of ASU to participate in. We also hope we can run events that benefit refugee families within our community.”
With hopes of majoring in biomedical engineering and being on a pre-dental track at the University of Michigan, Suleiman also plans to continue her involvement in the Arab community.
“One of the criteria for me, other than a strong program, was whether the colleges I apply to had a community for me,” she said. “My goal since I can remember has and still is to go to U of M Ann Arbor. As I was researching the school, I found out that they have an ‘Arab Student Association.’ While going through their mission statement and social media, it inspired me to create the club at Annapolis High School. As I grow academically, I look forward to growing further in my community outreach.”
Saad said that he is excited to see what the ASU can do.
“I am very proud of all the work Tomasia has put forth so far,” he said. “And I am sure this is only the beginning of many great things that Tomasia and the Arab Student Union will accomplish.”