Guest Blog Post: Karen Rignall
As part of NNAAC's tenth anniversary, we'll be publishing a series of guest blog posts from some of the individuals most significant to the growth of the Network in it's decade of existence.
I did not really know what to expect back in the fall of 2004 when we first called together representatives from ARC’s original participating organizations, community supporters and local media to the ACCESS main office in Dearborn, MI, for the official announcement of a new national network supporting Arab American community groups from across the country. I was relatively new to this kind of work; my background with international nonprofits had me more familiar with community development in the Middle East than that any kind of activism in the U.S. And though I had been a volunteer with ACCESS as a graduate student, it was my personal perspective as an Arab American who has felt the effects of the entrenched bias against the community, heightened in the post-9/11 backlash. There was a lot going on at ACCESS when the path to a national network first began to take shape in 2002 with the start of the AmeriCorps program, and I wanted to get involved in whatever way I could.
In NNAAC’s first years, I had the chance to visit community groups of all sizes, crisscrossing the country to really gain a sense of the truly national network ACCESS was seeking to cultivate. We looked other minority and immigrant communities for inspiration, as well as seasoned Arab American community leaders in Dearborn and around the country with decades of activism under their belt. They knew very well what needed to happen for things to change for our community. We needed to invest in our institutions in a more concerted and sustained way, do the hard work of building our communities' public presence from the ground up and insist on a seat at the table for policy discussions that affect everyone's civil liberties and rights to a decent life. The whole concept centered on a volunteer led movement that would not only strengthen groups individually, but in a combined effort that draws on the assets of each local community to form one collective, national voice.
By the time I stepped back from a full-time role in NNAAC in 2005, it had become clear to me that in just a few short years, these collaborative efforts had really sparked something special. NNAAC gained momentum early on through the commitment of its members, community leaders and service providers. They believed in the idea that we could join together and become stronger as a result. And today, as an academic and a mother now living in Kentucky, I still try to contribute in whatever way I can to this idea I believe in.
I became a member of the NNAAC advisory board in 2012, and thought it would feel like I had come full circle. But coming around “full circle” implies the rounding around a path to reach an inevitable closing – or the end of an era. This would be an inaccurate metaphor to convey the evolution of an institution like NNAAC, that has grown so important to an entire community, drawing on an ever-widening assembly of workers and advocates all who are in it for the long-haul. NNAAC provides the Arab American community a sense of pride and confidence in what we can accomplish through the mutual support found in the network.
Reflecting on the progress of the last ten years, and seeing how far NNAAC has come, I applaud the efforts and respect the leaders, staff and members who have devoted the past decade to what ACCESS had sought to achieve from day one: rights and dignity for all Arab Americans. It is important to take a moment and congratulate those have helped nurture the Network to achieve all its successes and continued growth. And while I hold the utmost respect for everyone who had a hand in the development of NNAAC, I know we are all well-aware that there is still a long way to go – and a lot more work to do.