By: KATE OPALEWSKI
Campaign Platform Embraces and Celebrates Diversity in Schools
"There are people today saying that there's no place in this country for immigrants and it's a country built on immigrants. We think that's wrong. They want to tell people who they can and cannot love, who they can and cannot work with, who can use a bathroom and who can't. Oh my God, that's just wrong and we need to stand up against that."
- Ismael "Ish" Ahmed, candidate for State Board of Education.
Education and inclusion are the most important challenges facing Michigan today, according to State Board of Education President John Austin (D-Ann Arbor) and his running mate Ismael "Ish" Ahmed.
"Nothing is more important to our people and our state's economic future than getting everybody a great, and a higher education, which they must have, all of our people, today," Austin said about where they want to take this state.
That's the message they delivered during a July 27 joint diversity forum to outline their 2016 education agenda and formally announce Ahmed's candidacy for the state board.
"We chose to make this announcement among friends and family, among people who are actively working for change in this society, who are the guardians of our culture, our community and our forward movement," Ahmed said.
The discussion brought together a diverse group of community leaders at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit for a roundtable discussion.
Some of the attendees were Wayne County Community College Diversity Officer Furquan Ahmed, University of Michigan Regent Mark Bernstein, Equality Michigan's Deputy Director Michael Gipson, Detroit Police Commissioner Willie Burton, Detroit Attorney Linda Bernard and Director of the National Network for Arab American Communities Nadia Tonova.
The focus was how to make education in Michigan work for all students; whatever zip code they live in, whatever their race, color, creed, country of origin, gender identity or sexual orientation.
"Rather than send messages of fear, hate and division that repels people, which we're hearing a lot about this election year," Austin said.
This is important, he said, during a time when state governments are trying to limit the rights of their LGBT citizens and spew hatred of minority groups.
On the right side of history, Austin is actively supporting a proposal to adopt guidelines for dealing with LGBT students' issues in public schools to include professional training on how to handle LGBT students' needs to bathroom and locker room etiquette.
A list of proposed recommendations for Michigan school districts was up for debate in Lansing in May. The state reported that it will consider all comments - more than 13,000, by some estimates - before deciding what to do about the proposal in September at the earliest, as they need additional time to discuss privacy issues among students and educational staff.
Meanwhile, conservatives, such as Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba), would like bathrooms to be reserved for students of their biological sex at Michigan schools under legislation he introduced in May. A bill, which Austin said made North Carolina "a laughing stock and national pariah," when House Bill 2 passed in March. The lengthy battle over HB2 began earlier this week. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder did not immediately rule after Monday's hearing for an injunction as more time is needed to collect and consider the facts. A decision is therefore not likely until next week.
Austin told The Michigan Daily in June that the bill could violate federal civil rights and further isolate transgender students who are already at risk for suicide, depression and bullying.
"He is courageous. His stance on LGBTQ issues have been something to admire. To see him out there that strongly - and sometimes alone - people respect that and him for it," Sugar Law Center board member and Michigan State Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) said.
Austin was elected in 2000 and re-elected in 2008 to continue leading the charge to put Michigan back among the top 10 performing states. He and Ahmed can do so by fighting against discriminatory policy, a lack of funding and politics-driven decisions that Austin said chases people away and turns Michigan into a "backwater" state in the 21st century economy.
Together, they want to make this election a referendum on what kind of state we want to be.
"John is probably the most powerful candidate that there is going to be. He doesn't need to run in tandem with me, but he chose to do that because we believe in the same things," Ahmed said. "I came to him and said I'm an Arab Muslim. That won't help you. He said that's exactly what I want on the ticket."
Ahmed is the co-founder of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), Arab American National Museum and former director of Michigan Department of Health under Gov. Jennifer Granholm. When Ahmed left government in 2011, he joined the University of Michigan-Dearborn as an associate provost for integrated learning and community partnerships. That's where he persuaded the university before his retirement in 2015, to help sponsor Public Allies, a young leadership program, he said, that will triple in size this year.
"If there's a gentleman who knows people from grassroots organizations to the top, it's Ish," ACCESS Emeritus Board of Director Gerald Smith said.
"He is the embodiment of what a social justice advocate is all about. Ish has done many great things with respect involving young people and families," Smith said. "He gets it from an economic standpoint, he gets it from a people standpoint, and he gets it from a family standpoint."
Married to his wife, Margaret King, for more than 30 years with five children and six grandchildren, it's no surprise Ahmed gets it.
"Family comes first. It's a big thing, not a little thing," he said. It's "tough to be a parent," he said, and launching more system-wide parenting programs will be a part of their agenda. In addition, Ahmed and Austin will work together to provide early education for everyone in a system that honors and supports its teachers, push back against the unfettered expansion of poor quality charter and virtual schools for-profit companies, and knock down barriers to lift LGBT youth and minorities.
Ahmed is blunt. This is a dark time, he said, about those who would like to take us back or isolate us or leave us with no opportunity.
"There are people today saying that there's no place in this country for immigrants and it's a country built on immigrants. We think that's wrong. They want to tell people who they can and cannot love, who they can and cannot work with, who can use a bathroom and who can't. Oh my God, that's just wrong and we need to stand up against that," he said. "They use these things to disrupt us, to break us apart and make sure we do not work together because when we work together, things change."
Arab American Civil Rights League Board Chairman Nassar Beydoun has been in the trenches with Ahmed for 17 years. "I've seen what he can do. He is loyal to his friends and the people who know him. He instills loyalty in others," Beydoun said.
Many people recognize Ahmed for his courageous leadership, which CEO of New Detroit, Inc. Shirley Stancato, said we don't have enough of.
"The big issue is making sure all voices are at the table, listening to what folks have to say. You two do and I commend you for that. I'm excited to be in the presence of the example that you are setting," she declared.
If elected, Ahmed would be the only Arab American on the state board. The current board is 6-2 Democratic with one African-American woman, one Latina woman, four white women, and two white men, none of which are openly LGBT.
Two seats are on the ballot that two Democrats, two Republicans and other third-party candidates will run for in November's election.
"If Republicans win both seats then the board is split...can't make decisions," Austin said. "The stakes of this campaign could not be higher. Michigan's public and higher education systems are under assault from destructive Legislative leaders and their right-wing backers."
In addition to voting for two Democrats, Ahmed suggests how to solve this problem.
"There are too many entities, at the state and federal level, who know almost nothing about education telling us how to run our schools. Parents, communities and their elected officials are being locked out of the decision making, boards of education are being thrown out by policy makers. This has got to stop," he said. "We have to control our schools. These are our children. We need to be involved in the decisions that are made. Our view is that we must put the public back into public schools."
To connect with and support the campaign visit:
http://www.ishmaelforboard.com or http://www.austinformichigan.com.
Source: Pride Source