Holly, MI—As Seven Lakes glistened in the harsh afternoon sunlight a few hundred feet away, Zain Salman and Dr. Abd Alghanem carefully unwrapped layers and layers of foil from an enormous round dish, revealing a freshly roasted lamb resting on a bed of rice garnished with lemons, veggies and pine nuts. This dish was the centerpiece of a spread that seemed to keep growing as dozens of people of Middle Eastern descent with homemade meals in hand gathered under the shade of the Fisherman’s Cove Pavilion to celebrate their culture at the Arab American Heritage Council (AAHC) of Greater Flint’s annual community picnic on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022.
“A critical part of our mission, as I mentioned previously, is to really build community,” said Lucine Jarrah, AAHC’s executive director. “One of the ways that we hope to do that is to create spaces like this where we can enjoy food together, enjoy drinks together, and really create opportunities to, you know, broaden understanding and appreciation for Arab culture and heritage.”
Just as Salman and Alghanem unwrapped the lamb, Jarrah said one of the key motivations for AAHC’s community-building events is to unwrap stereotypes about people of Middle Eastern descent by spreading awareness about Arab American culture.
“Those are aspects that are really important to who I am, and something that I grew up, you know, learning about on my own in the community,” said Jarrah, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon. “So I’ve always been super invested in being able to share that with the Greater Flint community.”
Jarrah, 25, took on her role as AAHC’s executive director in January of 2022, making her the second-youngest to hold the position in the organization’s 42 years of operation. In addition to building community, AAHC advocates for Arab Americans in the Greater Flint area through civic advocacy work.
This August marks Jarrah’s fourth year with AAHC, throughout which she has worked in various other positions, namely communications coordinator. Jarrah has earned both a master’s degree in social work and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Michigan.
“I learn so much from what she does, and I love seeing her vision, like, come to life,” said Sabrina Jarrah, Lucine Jarrah’s sister who is a neuroscience research tech at the University of Michigan.
Sabrina Jarrah added that AAHC’s events help her appreciate her culture. While celebrations of Arab culture like the community picnic may be common in the Middle East, they take on new significance in the U.S.
“There’s a beauty when, kind of like, these two different worlds collide, and you’re merged into it,” she said. “When you’re here [in the U.S.], you acknowledge it even more, your Arab-ness.”
Check out all the picnic’s festivities in the photos below.