DETROIT – Building on years of cooperation, Muslim and Jewish communities have come together to prepare a struggling Detroit elementary school for New Year and counter potential fear and mistrust among both communities.
“When we heard about the sickouts we were thinking, what can we do?” Sumaiya Ahmed, communication director of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, told Detroit Free Press on Sunday, September 18.
“We wanted to help the city of Detroit because that’s where we were all born and raised. …Education is something that is not only a faith-based thing but a human thing. That’s where I teamed up with a good friend of mine, Mariam (Fahs). She was already doing local things within the school. I reached out to her. We didn’t want it to be a one-time thing.”
More than 150 volunteers from across metro Detroit met at the school, located at 1150 E. Lantz St., for the interfaith Nolan Makeover Fix-Up Day effort.
Volunteers worked together to paint murals throughout the hallways, prepared classrooms and did a complete transformation and reorganization of the school’s library.
“We heard there was a school in need of brightening up,” Slovis, who is Jewish, told Detroit Free Press on Sunday, September 18.
She said principal Ricky Fountain “got me very excited about being a part of it and making us feel that what we were doing was really important to the kids and their attitude coming to school, and to their self image of seeing bright walls and pretty pictures. We’re also using this as a way to bring the Jewish community and Muslim community together.”
The event is not the first for the two organizations.
In March, more than 100 Muslim and Jewish volunteers along with Nolan students and parents came together to clean the school’s library, paint the bathroom stalls and install new toilet seats, clean debris from the grounds and complete a student-designed hallway mural.
Nolan, which is part of the state-run Education Achievement Authority school reform district, has more than 300 students ranging from pre-K to eighth grade, according to Fountain.
Oxford Virtual Academy senior Bayan Rayes, a Muslim, said this isn’t the first time she’s volunteered at an MMCC event.
“Doing things like this makes me feel like I’m being part of something good,” Rayes said.
“It always makes you feel good at the end of the day. You feel amazing.”
The effort by both groups was praised by the school principal for offering a role model to students.
“It’s a splendid situation,” Fountain, the school principal, said.
“It reinforces what we want the community to do to support us. We’ve had conversations on how can we bring these communities together and literally impact the achievement. The whole purpose of today is, everything they’re doing is going to affect instruction. …I couldn’t be happier than I am now.”
Kindergarten teacher Mariam Fahs, who is Muslim, helped orchestrate the event and said she believes the makeover would help reinvigorate her students’ learning throughout the year.
“As a kindergarten teacher, I get children that come with blank canvasses,” Fahs said.
“For a lot of my kids, this is their first experience ever in school, so for them, I want to make sure that this is the space for them to feel that not only is this space my school, but it’s my home. And with what we did last year, with beautifying the school, that was our first step. Next, it needed the color, it needed that inspirational feel, that warmth that students needed when they walked in.”
Naomi Levine, community relations associate for the Jewish Community Relations Council, said her organization has had a “wonderful partnership” with the Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC) over the past several years.
“We thought this was a perfect thing to do,” Levine said.
“We’re committed to this school. They’re the best kids. It’s also important for us to dispel any preconceived notions that Muslims and Jews can’t work together and get along. I mean, why not? We’re all people and we care about our kids. It’s a wonderful thing, and we’re so proud. It has truly resonated with people.”
Fountain that he wanted to see the effect of the repairs in the school on its students on Monday morning.
“The scale of this will shake them up,” Fountain said.
“They’ll be in positive awe, and that’s exactly what we want to do. In the morning, I’ll be here looking at their faces, and it’ll be a beautiful thing.”