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Rapson: ACCESS grew from a few volunteers to a major advocacy group. Hassan Jaber was key.

Detroit, From the President

Photo portrait of Hassan Jaber
Hassan Jaber’s leadership style has been profoundly respectful, inclusive and free of bluster, says Rapson.

Hassan Jaber, who recently announced his retirement as president and CEO of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, leaves behind an organization profoundly shaped by his 14 years as president and 41 years in total. He helped ACCESS to grow from a small group of volunteers committed to improving the lives of Arab Americans to arguably the most important voice of advocacy and support in America for that population.

Comprising three national institutions – the Arab American National Museum, the Center for Arab American Philanthropy, and the National Network for Arab American Communities – and some 120 human service programs in 10 locations, ACCESS serves communities of all backgrounds – not just Arab Americans – by offering supports in health and wellness, the arts, education, youth services, employment readiness and human services, and by advocating for a just and equitable society embracing the full participation of Arab Americans.

Hassan’s service to the Arab American community is unparalleled. A tenure of this length would in and of itself be a profound accomplishment. I can think of few people who believe so passionately in service to community that they are prepared to follow that path uninterrupted for 41 years. I can think of even fewer who could transition so seamlessly and gracefully from helping launch an organization of just a few to guiding one serving tens of thousands of people. And I can think of only a handful who could know with absolute clarity that they had contributed to the health, stability and aspirations of a community across generations.

But it is a hallmark of Hassan’s leadership that he would never claim those accomplishments.

I have had the deep pleasure of watching Hassan from the moment I arrived in Detroit. Indeed, one of my very first visits was a day-long tour of ACCESS – from the museum to the community satellites. It took me all of 45 seconds to realize that this quiet and humble man who was showing me around was a leader whose every word and action was undergirded by a deep reservoir of wisdom and experience … humility and integrity … compassion and passion.

From that time forward, I came to understand that the Detroit community may have made the mistake of taking these qualities for granted. Hassan’s style of leadership was so profoundly respectful, so free of bluster, so inclusive of colleagues and clients alike. But those qualities and that style were a powerful influence, defining for ACCESS an uncompromising ethic of fairness, equity and justice for its internal organizational culture, for the populations it serves and for the broader geographic communities of which it is a part.

Hassan recently wrote me a note that provides a small glimpse into this:

When you are at this junction of life you tend to do lots of reflecting and lots of what ifs? One of the reoccurring thoughts coming to me nowadays is why I stayed this long at ACCESS and why I stayed in the nonprofit community service space? I can only think of two answers.

 One, for me ACCESS was more of refuge than a place of work. Coming to this country traumatized by war, I needed to heal, and I found healing by staying close to my core values and also staying close to people who share my pain and my life experience.

 Second, no one could survive this long in community service if it weren’t for people like you who make you feel you are not alone and you are in the company of strong and inspiring people and support system full of promises for better life. Hope and the belief in humane and equitable future is truly magical force.

 You, Rip and Kresge, were very big part of the ACCESS support system and of enabling us to stay the course and to grow in serving our community. Kresge challenged us to expand our vision and then went one step further by giving us the tools to do it. You honestly changed the trajectory of ACCESS. 

Hassan is handing the reins to his colleague of some 30 years, Maha Freij. ACCESS could not be in better hands. But she will build on the unshakable bedrock of excellence that Hassan laid. Thank you for all you have done, Hassan.

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