The goal for ICGF is to be:
- A two-way connection for locals and internationals to network
- No matter how long you’ve been here and no matter where you came from
- From Juneteenth Celebrations to the Chinese New Year
- The place to meet each “other”
- A vehicle to link Flint to the global community
Strategies to transforming Greater Flint's culture:
- Drive international economic development strategy
- Serve as a catalyst to re-brand Flint and the region’s image
- Provide a meeting place and online information and link people to resources
- Provide community multi-cultural education and awareness; convene community conversations and safe engagement
- A place where "Flint meets the World”
International Center of Greater Flint
Board of Directors
Emily Feuerherm, University of Michigan, Flint
Steven Low, Flint Jewish Federation
Adil Mohammed, American Muslim Community Services
Asinda Sirignano, Kettering University
Phillip Thompson, Community Member
Phyllis D. Sykes
A native of Flint, and a citizen of the world.
A transplant from India & Flint citizen.
Building global connections locally with new International Center of Greater Flint
FLINT, Michigan—It all started when Phyllis Sykes looked out the window while dining at 501 Bar and Grill and saw a group of international students walking down Saginaw Street. She saw an opportunity for the Flint community to really be engaged on a global level. She wondered if the students felt welcomed. She wondered what their experience was really like. And, she went into action.
Sykes approached community leaders with a simple message: “Look, this is an opportunity for Flint to leverage what they bring to the community.”
After a decade of seeing booming international enrollment at local colleges and universities, Sykes launched an initiative in 2015 to create the International Center of Greater Flint. Sykes joined forces with Emily Feuerherm, assistant professor of English at the University of Michigan-Flint who previously had worked with refugees in California.
Together, they conducted focus groups with international students from UM-Flint, Kettering University and Mott Community College to find out more about what the students wanted to experience while studying in Flint.
The overwhelming response: To be involved with the community while here. To be active. To be included.
Enter Phyllis Sykes and Adil Mohhammed, who co-founded the International Center of Greater Flint and its three pronged purpose: information and referral, economic development, and multicultural understanding and dialogue.
“We want to make Flint a welcoming place for people who want to come here and contribute and be a part of the community,” said Sykes, who also notes that bringing people together is a way to spark creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
Over the last two years, the work has focused on garnering support from throughout the community, successfully obtaining its 501(c)(3) status, working at a grassroots level, and recently launching an elementary school international dialogues pilot program.
“We’ve done the groundwork. We’ve done the grassroots work to get people to buy into it, and now we are ready to start doing some things,” Sykes said.
Through a new pilot program, international students from UM-Flint are hosting five dialogues with students at Pierce Elementary School in Flint.As part of the Pierce Elementary School International Dialogues pilot project, fifth- and sixth-graders in Flint are introduced to students studying abroad here. In a series of five meetings, the international students share information about their cultures, their traditional clothing, pictures from their home countries, and (perhaps most importantly) answer questions.
For Damilola Alao, a student from Nigeria currently studying at UM-Flint, the dialogues also provided her with the opportunity to see inside the walls of an American elementary school. And, while talking with and increasing awareness for adults also is important, it is particularly rewarding to talk at Pierce.
“Children don’t have boundaries. When they see things, they talk about things,” Alao said. “As an international student, we decided to come all the way from our country to experience the country, the community that we are in. .... We have things to offer to the community, not just take from the community.”
While the initial creation of the center followed the increase in international students coming to Flint universities, its focus goes beyond students to also include immigrant and refugee populations—which also consistently mentioned during focus groups the need for a place to access services and become connected to the community.
An International Institute of Flint previously was located on Stevenson Street in downtown Flint, adjacent to the UM-Flint campus. It focused on serving the local immigration population, but closed in 2007.
Sykes said the International Center hopes someday to have a building that will be easily accessible and available to serve the community—but funding will be the key to being able to achieve that goal.
In the meantime, the International Center is continuing to move forward and build programing.
An international food fest is being planned for January, additional Sister City partnerships also are being pursued, and the volunteer group Flint International Friends Association provides opportunities for international students to practice their language skills.
“It’s another way to broaden Flint’s scope, enabling Flint to interact on a global level and for the globe to know about Flint. We see this as a chance to re-brand, re-invent Flint,” Sykes said.
(This article first appeared in Flint Side. Read the original edition here.)
American. Muslim. Any questions?
Adil Mohammed builds friendships, community, understanding
Rumors circulated that President Barack Obama was secretly a Muslim and Adil Mohammed, 57, couldn’t help but wonder: Why?
Why would it be secret? Why is it a controversy? “That was looked upon as a bad thing,” Mohammed says. Faced with fear, distrust, even hatred, Mohammed knew how to best respond.
“I’ve always known there’s a secret to it, and it’s not such a secret. The secret is you just put yourself out there,” says Mohammed. “You can’t isolate yourself. Be open. Don’t become secretive. Don’t become a cult. Any time you are closed, you run the risk of becoming a cult.”
Mohammed came to the United States in 1983 at age 22 to attend graduate school. He rented an apartment while attending the University of Louisville and spent time with his landlady watching evening network news. She taught him the basics to function in American society, like writing a check and addressing an envelope, and gave him an important taste of America.
“That’s how I got into America, or America got into me,” says Mohammed.
After completing his master’s degree in industrial engineering, he went to work for General Motors as a project manager until being laid off in 2009. He and a business partner formed Med+IT Systems in 2014 and is also in the process of developing mobile apps.
“Coming from India, I was always comfortable coming from a multi-faith, multi-cultural society. I was actually in a minority. I grew up learning how to deal with other faiths and work together and be nice,” Mohammed says.
“At some point in my life I made the decision that America is my home.” When that realization occurred to him he decided to plant his roots and “put himself out there” as he had learned from his upbringing in India.
“I have to truly make this home. I have to be involved in things. I have to be open with everyone around me. I can’t stay away from the community where I’ve made a home.”
Within a year, Mohammed joined with a core group of four or five other Flint-area Muslims and formed American Muslim Community Services.
“We are going to start doing things within the community. We are not going to stay in our own community. Anything we do, we are going to be about helping the larger community and not just helping our own small community,” Mohammed says of the formation of the group. “We picked a name: We are American, we are Muslim, and we want to serve the community.”
AMCS gives SAT coaching classes, offers nutritional assistance through two Flint Muslim Food Pantry locations, and operates the Muslim Outreach Free Medical Clinic.
“Our mosque has an open house two or three times a year and that’s great, but unless you step out of the mosque and mingle with others and interact, how can you say you have an open mind. That’s the two-way street. Don’t just invite others to come to you, you have to step out, too.”
The AMCS slogan is “Connecting Communities. For Good.”
Mohammed explains the concept behind the slogan.
“Everybody is part of a circle,” he says detailing two of his circles as the India Club and the Flint Islamic Center. “Let’s not just sit in our own little circle. We can still be a part of those circles but also be a part of the other communities. No one has to break out of the one to go to the other,” he says. “But you are connected.
“That’s what I want the AMCS to be. The AMCS needs to be a catalyst for connecting the Muslim communities with the other communities, but not necessarily faith-based.”
Mohammed is also the co-founder of the blossoming International Center of Greater Flint.
“I’m interested in knowing your story and I hope you are interested in knowing my story,” says Mohammed. “I’m not asking you to agree with me, but at least if we know each other’s stories, we’ll be in a better place.”
(This article first appeared in Flint Side. Read the original edition here.)