Ethnic Community Committee names 2011 Diversity Distinction winners

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published December 20, 2011

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Flip on WNZK 690 AM in the early afternoon and you may hear the voice of Sterling Heights resident Nick Najjar, speaking in Arabic about everyday issues.

“We talk about laws. We talk about real estate — talk about everything that’s important in the community,” said Najjar, who emigrated from Iraq 30 years ago. “That’s our job, to educate the community, because we have a lot of newcomers. They don’t know the rules and regulations of this country.”

It’s that kind of mindset that netted Najjar — along with two other residents and three organizations — a 2011 Diversity Distinction award from the Sterling Heights Ethnic Community Committee. The group’s members presented the accolades publicly during the Dec. 6 City Council meeting.

“The Sterling Heights Ethnic Committee’s mission is to promote the city’s rich diversity and build a bridge of cultural understanding among our residents,” Chairwoman Susan Kattula told audience members. “One of the ways we achieve those goals is through our annual awards ceremony, where we honor those who champion diversity.”

Committee members sifted through nominations received over a three-month period, selecting those who “met and excelled in a variety of criteria, including promoting understanding among city residents of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds,” said Kattula.

Najjar was recognized for his volunteerism and commitment to generating public awareness among the local Chaldean/Mid-dle Eastern community.

A Realtor by trade, he has served on the Ethnic Community Committee and the state’s Advisory Council on Arab and Chaldean American Affairs, as well as Sterling’s Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals.

“I’ve lived here more than half my life,” he said. “To me, this is my country. This is my life.”

On the half-hour of airtime he purchased at the Southfield-based radio station 12 years ago, Najjar said he and his co-host, an attorney, have interviewed a bevy of municipal and law enforcement officials from Sterling Heights and surrounding communities. The show can be heard from Saginaw to Sandusky, Ohio; Lansing to London, Ontario.

Intent on educating immigrants on community regulations and resources, Najjar also translated city services information booklets into Arabic and distributed them throughout the area. Ensuring everyone understands expectations about parking, lawn maintenance, property upkeep, etc., makes for peaceful, well-kept neighborhoods, he said.

“My goal is not only helping the Chaldeans,” he said. “By teaching the people what they’re supposed to do, you’re helping your neighbor, too, not just the community.”

Snezana Mitovski, owner of S & V Fashion Boutique in Sterling Heights, received the Diversity Distinction nod for her involvement in the Macedonian community, including serving as president of the Women’s Club at the Macedonian Cultural Center.

Mitovski has experienced a little slice of countless cultures through the many weddings she’s been involved in as a seamstress and designer.

“I learned, actually, in business, a lot with the different cultures,” said Mitovski, who came to the United States at age 19 and has lived in Sterling Heights for more than 30 years. “I see a lot of different traditions, a lot of different things. I want to see everybody happy. … It doesn’t matter the culture or tradition.”

Edward Bahoura, a resident of more than two decades, received recognition for his “outstanding commitment to diversity and community investment” on two fronts: the corporate realm and his own volunteerism.

Bahoura has served as an executive board member for Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeast Michigan, “dedicating countless hours in the form of leadership, labor, awareness and fundraising,” the committee noted.

The Interfaith Center for Racial Justice was honored for “building bridges of understanding between people of different cultures and religious traditions” for more than 40 years. In the wake of a “summer of racial disturbances,” metro Detroit religious leaders founded the ICRJ in 1968 in response to the Kerner Commission Report, which indicated that black people and white people were migrating toward separate, unequal societies.

The Mount Clemens-based organization coordinates various programs and events based around its core mission, including the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration of Macomb County, Macomb Mosaic, Passport America, the Kindness & Justice Challenge, Forums on Diversity, a summer camp for teens and more.

The Macedonian Cultural Center, located in Sterling Heights, earned praise for its efforts to preserve Macedonian heritage while promoting diversity. It has done so, the committee noted, in cooperation with the Republic of Macedonia and Tetovo, one of Sterling’s official sister cities, where the majority of Sterling’s Macedonian-American residents reportedly resided prior to immigrating here.

The Sarisan Slovak Folk Ensemble, based at Ss. Cyril & Methodius Slovak Catholic Church in Sterling Heights, also was recognized for its 40 years of promoting Slovak heritage through song and dance. Dressed in colorful costumes, the group’s members perform dances from various Slovakian regions and have become a fixture at local multi-cultural events.

Established in 2008, the Diversity Distinction awards traditionally were administered during the Ethnic Community Committee’s September Diversity Dinner, featuring ethnic food and entertainment. This year’s dinner was canceled due to municipal budget cuts, prompting the group to shift the ceremony to a City Council meeting.

Twelve people and seven companies — ranging from corporations offering bilingual services to teachers developing programs for students of various nationalities — have netted the award over the last three years.

For more information on the Ethnic Community Committee, call (586) 446-2489 or visit www.sterling-heights.net.

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