(DEARBORN, MI) — It’s no secret that Dearborn-based businessman Ali Jawad likes to stay active. Even during Ramadan, the hands-on and self-made entrepreneur jogs for six miles per day.
In between exercises and frequent soccer matches, Jawad manages Armada Oil, one of Michigan’s largest motor fuel distributors which he founded in 1982. But he rarely speaks of his financial and professional success.
Jawad would rather talk about his philanthropic success and ambitious vision to create a gathering place for Lebanese-Americans in Dearborn, Mich., which is home to the largest concentrated Arab population outside of the Middle East.
But admittedly, philanthropic success didn’t come easy.
As Jawad describes, mobilizing the Lebanese community often presented more challenges than operating a major business.
“On many occasions we told the community that if you lose your heritage, you lose your identity,” he said. “We had many challenges, but it eventually stuck with people.”
From Soccer to Service
In the early 1980’s, Jawad and a few friends started “Dearborn Stars,” a local soccer team created to stay active and pass time. Although it was entertaining and engaging for a couple of months, Jawad was called in a different direction.
“I was reading that all these Lebanese from around the world were starting Lebanese clubs,” said Jawad. “So I looked at the guys and said let’s start one.”
From there, the Lebanese-American Heritage Club (LAHC) was born.
Since 1989, the organization has given over $1.5 million in scholarships for deserving Lebanese-American students.
But it didn’t start that way.
Jawad recalls facing pushback from some community members who labeled him as a “right-winger” for his Lebanese patriotism.
“People started accusing me and putting labels on me,” he said. “But my goal was to end the discussion of politics and stop our self-created divisions.”
That’s when Jawad called on Lebanese youth to come forward and take leadership roles in community activities.
“We told the older generations that LAHC has no Amal, no Kataeb,” he said, referring to opposing political factions in Lebanon. “We told them if you want to get involved in politics, go fight in the Republican or Democratic arena.”
Jawad wanted to see the Arab community more involved in American affairs. He said he emphasized involvement on “both wings” — both American and Lebanese community involvement.
“America is built on immigration,” Jawad said. “But for Arab-Americans we had to double our resources because of all the problems in the Middle East.”
Jawad said “doubling” resources began with encouraging undergraduate and post-graduate education.
“We started giving out four scholarships and it naturally kept growing and growing,” said Jawad. “We started getting American corporations involved and American politicians and it grew to a whole new level.”
Encouraging Future Leaders
Today, LAHC is one of the largest and most respected Lebanese-American organizations in the country. Jawad gives credit to many community supporters who helped craft his vision, including former Consul General of Lebanon Nasrat El Assaad.
But more importantly, Jawad credits future generations of Lebanese-Americans for continuing the organization’s legacy and contributing to its global success.
“My proudest moments is when I see the youth get a scholarship and do something positive,” he said. “I’m always proud to see the next generation go to college, open businesses, and take leadership positions.”
Hussein Hachem, founder of the Youth Leadership Committee of LAHC, is one of them.
“For me, LAHC is a place for common ground,” said Hachem. “It’s a place where we can be proud of our community and grow together.”
Jawad said his vision can only improve in the hands of community members like Hachem. This year the organization will award $103,000 in scholarships to 43 students of high academic distinction at the 27th Annual Awards Gala on May 8.
“You never know when you start something where it will end up,” said Jawad. “Sometimes you see success from the angels.”