create / 2014

Creating Community With L.A.s Cultural Center for the Middle East/North Africa

Creating Community With L.A.s Cultural Center for the Middle East/North Africa

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Levantine Cultural Center

MECAY—Bringing new arts, cultural diversity training and educational opportunities to the youth of Southern California.


Please describe yourself.

Solo actor (just us on this project!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

MECAY—Bringing new arts, cultural diversity training and educational opportunities to the youth of Southern California.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

MECAY—Bringing new arts, cultural diversity training and educational opportunities to the youth of Southern California.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

MECAY will provide kids with hands-on learning experiences that will open their minds to the Middle East and North Africa. We will serve Kindergarten through High School. Elementary students will greatly benefit from programs of this nature and it is necessary to cultivate this understanding at early stages of child development. This will also gain the interest of a larger number of educators and families.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CREATE today? In 2050?

The Los Angeles public school system is in dire need of this program. Inadequate resources and information to educate youth on the culture and the history of the Middle East serve to perpetuate a cycle of misunderstanding that is a key component of many of the problems that America and the world at large face today.

The contemporary Arab and Muslim world is generally associated with the selective images of war, terrorism or oil fields. The majority of Los Angeles youth grow up with negative, and often false, images and stereotypes of Arabs/Muslims. These stereotypes are perpetuated through films and television, creating an environment of distrust towards Middle Eastern American communities. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 Los Angeles County experienced a fifteen-fold increase in anti-Arab/Muslim hate crimes. Racial profiling and acts of violence are generally perpetrated by individuals ignorant of Arab and Muslim heritage, who often mistake other Americans for Middle Easterners (ie Sikh community).

In order to promote a deeper understanding of the Middle Eastern American community, schools need to educate youth on the positive cultural contributions people from the Middle East bring to the world. In order for harmful negative stereotypes to be eradicated, Middle Easterners themselves need to take initiative, but also Americans need to see the world situation with clear and educated eyes in order to not perpetuate an endless cycle of distrust. Education is the key.

The Arab/Middle East is in fact a diverse region that includes for example Iranian Bahais, Palestinian Christians and Arab Jews, along with a wide range of other minority communities.The greater Middle East isa complex quilt of cultures and ethnicities (Berbers, Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Druze etc.), each with a unique history and contribution to the host society.

Through our programs, this mosaic quilt will be unfolded for Los Angeles youth through face-to-face encounters with guest speakers/performers from the region and hands-on workshops and classes.

The wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have sparked a public interest in the Middle East, prompting more questions about Arabs and the Muslim world. Building bridges between disparate communities is an essential component of harvesting understanding in Los Angeles. The development of cultural enrichment programs like MECAY is necessary for today’s youth.

Whom will your project benefit?

UP to 10,000 K-12 youth and their parents in Los Angeles County.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We will partner with multiple community organizations, such as Muslims for Progressive Values, and the Craft and Folk Art Museum, as well as LAUSD.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Create” metrics?

  • Employment in creative industries
  • Arts establishments per capita
  • Measures of cultural and global economic influence (“soft power”) (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

The immediate results of the program include youth gaining skills taught by adept instructors along with learning about and developing awareness of another culture. The long-term results include the development of youth that are compassionate, open-minded, and conscientious representatives of the Los Angeles community and of America.

Exposing Los Angeles youth to Middle Eastern culture will cultivate a positive relationship from an early age. These youth will grow up with Middle Eastern American role models who will be seen as fellow Americans working to improve the conditions of their home in Los Angeles.

a. Youth of Middle Eastern and North African descent develop a positive self-image that reflects understanding, cultural awareness and an appreciation of their many contributions to society. b. We build leaders and peacemakers that share an invested interest in celebrating their Middle Eastern and North African culture and rich contribution to the Arts. c. Programs of this nature allow youth and their families to feel supported and understood through a creative and peaceful channel. d. The Arts serve as a catalyst for change and promotes an understanding that is both global and speaks many languages. e. We find more in our shared interest where the Middle East and North Africa possess many rich cross-cultural commonalities. The essence of the human spirit is in being more alike than different.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

To ensure integration of its mission and programs, the Project Manager will in the first two phases of the project contract appropriate evaluation tools to effectively measure standards of achievements and milestones. Emphasis will be placed on quality program and case management from the beginning of initial contact to the end of a youth’s program affiliation, assessing qualitative and quantitative data. LCC will administer feedback and progress reports to evaluate and track youth progress over time from their initial entry into programs. Youth will sign a release form to allow their progress reports to be viewed by additional LCC staff.

The MECAY Project Manager will evaluate youth on performance, attendance, peer interaction, and motivation. Surveys will be administered at the end of each program, workshop, or seminar cycle to evaluate students’ interests for future programming and comments on current programming. Survey questions will also demonstrate whether students’ perceptions of the Middle East have changed after learning more about the culture. Intake forms will be created or obtained from participating nonprofits or schools to record each student’s information for demographic statistics and medical purposes.

The Project Manager will conduct follow up meetings with school administrators and teachers through presentations that emphasize the importance of the school’s involvement at the end of each month. Qualitative input will be gathered from parents through their participation in a Parent Advisory Committee. Regular reports provide a barometer to gauge the success and relevance of programs and services, allowing for readjustments and improvements to be made in real time. Every six months, meetings will be held with program instructors, coalitions, schools or nonprofits to evaluate the status of the partnership. Program measurement will be dependent on youth participation, interest, and instructor performance. These meetings will determine whether a contract is renewed for another year or the relationship is canceled. LCC will work in collaborative partnerships with many community based organizations providing complimentary services. To meet the community’s needs, LCC benefits from a broad base of financial support from individual donors, corporate sponsors, and special events. Thus LCC is able to attempt bold cutting-edge innovations in order to remain relevant to the community’s changing needs and populations.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

We have learned from experience in middle and high schools that most kids have only the faintest ideas about cultures and societies of the Middle East and North Africa, often harboring stereotypes base on watching film and television.

We also observed increased attacks and hatred of Arab/Muslim communities after 9/11, after the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, and during armed conflicts in the Middle East.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

We propose MECAY at a pilot project for nine months 2014-2015 and have the educational resources available immediately, right here in Los Angeles.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

There is resistance to Arab/Muslim cultures in the mainstream, with rising Islamophobia and covert racism. Our programs will demonstrate that Arab/Muslim cultures have much to admire and share common values with other American cultures.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Community outreach