East Lansing, Lansing unite for 11th annual Mayors' Ramadan Unity Dinner
LANSING, Mich. — A solitary man dressed in a red shirt held a trifold sign, protesting the 11th Annual Mayors’ Ramadan Unity Dinner.
He muttered something about the advancement of Sharia law and the threat Islam posed for Christians around the world.
He tried his best to draw attention, saying hello to people as they passed by the Lansing Center. But the solitary figure didn't seem to get through.
About 100 feet inside the building, approximately 550 people including statewide elected officials, religious leaders and ordinary residents of all creeds broke bread together.
Co-hosted by Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows with the Greater Lansing Food Bank, the dinner packed a large banquet hall to show unity in the face of bigotry and help, through donations, the hungry of the greater Lansing Region.
Meadows was unable to attend the event; East Lansing City Councilmember Susan Woods attended the dinner on Meadows' behalf.
“We welcome everybody, we treasure everybody, we love everybody,” Bernero said at the dinner. “That’s this community.”
The dinner honored the Muslim community for its contributions to the greater Lansing area while also highlighting its namesake, calling for further actions by the community to educate and bring the area together.
Dr. Abdalmajid Katranji, a hand surgeon with the Katranji Hand Center in Lansing, spoke at length about the community and the challenges it faces in politics, especially of late with the election of President Donald Trump.
“It brings us together to break bread to get to know one another,” Katranji said of the dinner. “Because once you do this and once you engage you become that much stronger and you become that barrier against the forces of hate, division and derision that seem to be always trying to rear their ugly head.”
Katranji also included a subtle jab at the Trump administration, playing off its “Make America Great Again” slogan which permeated much of the political rhetoric in the last year.
“Those forces that try to divide us, they don’t care what color you are,” Katranji said. “But what we tell these same forces, also we don’t care what color you are. We will stand against you, we will shut you down, we will destroy you and we will make America always great, not great again.”
Mayor Bernero, who is not seeking re-election, has hosted the dinner for the last 10 years, marking this dinner as his last. He was honored for his contributions by those in attendance and the Unity Dinner Committee members with a slide show and an award.
“When it would have been easier to step aside be silent or pretend not to see injustice, he stood as a beacon of light and hope for so many in Metro Lansing,” Katranji said of Bernero, later adding that Bernero was one of his heroes.
Sadia Covert, who originally came up with the idea for the dinner 10 years ago as an intern with Bernero, said the dinner was about Bernero tonight as much as it was about its regular cause.
“This eleventh dinner is a testament to his dedication to unity and to uniting everyone together from Lansing and East Lansing, and he’s been doing this for a decade,” Covert said.
The night closed as well with keynote speaker Dhabah “Debbie” Almontaser, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last year.
Almontaser is CEO and Founder of Bridging Cultures Group Inc., a consulting service which seeks to create a greater understanding across racial, ethnic and religious lines in schools and communities.
She relayed her story and struggles of kick-starting the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a New York City public high school which teaches Arabic and centers on a multicultural curriculum.
“I stand before you as living testimony, that we will never let anyone break us down and we will stand for one another, side by side and make sure each and every one of us does never ever feel alone,” Almontaser said.
She too called for unity following the election, saying that every group which feels it is under siege, must work together “making sure we build strong coalitions to combat hate.”
“And the only way we could do that is, we need to show up for each other,” Almontaser said. “Whenever there is anything, show up.”