Widen the Circle

On Saturday, January 16, 2010, the University of Michigan Polish Club organized a formal benefit for the Hamtramck Community Initiative. The Hamtramck Community Initiative is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that supports community development and crime enforcement efforts within Hamtramck. The Initiative coordinates local neighborhood watch programs with support from the Hamtramck Police Department and other governmental and social organizations; and, it coordinates efforts to redevelop Hamtramck’s infrastructure. Among its successes, the Initiative works alongside the U.S. Department of Justice to implement Hamtramck’s Weed and Seed program – a program to diminish crime and support business and community redevelopment. It’s a fantastic organization led by ordinary people who aim to strengthen their own community. The fundraising event went off without a hitch; and, the University of Michigan Polish Club deserves enormous praise for its foresight and concern toward a city that means so much to us.

I was fortunate enough to attend this event; and in doing so, I was happily struck by something pertinent to the conversation we’ve held over the past year. Specifically, if you were to step onto the dance floor and look in all directions, you’d be hard-pressed to guess the organization that initiated and led this event. Certainly, the event had many Polish American guests; and, the crowd obviously skewed younger. But, it was also attended by guests who had absolutely no ties to either the City of Hamtramck or Polonia; and, it included guests from all age groups. The University of Michigan Polish Club solicited support from students of all cultural backgrounds – African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and others; and, its members unabashedly partied with guests over twice their age. As a result, the Polish Club garnered support from an incredible conglomeration of cultures and viewpoints that directed its attention toward a cause that everyone – and, in particular, the Polish American community – found important: that is, to support Hamtramck’s redevelopment. The benefit would not have raised as much money without their support.

We’ve certainly discussed the need to expand Polonia’s outreach within American society and to other cultural groups; as I’ve often stated, this outreach not only strengthens our own communities, but it provides us with an obvious mechanism to assume leadership roles and to thereby expand our respect and influence throughout society. But, the University of Michigan Polish Club effectively put these ideas into action; and, our community benefits from its willingness to do so. This leads me to wonder – could other Polish American organizations follow this model to support our community?

The University of Michigan Polish Club is certainly not the first organization to implement these ideas. The Piast Institute, for instance, actively conducts outreach toward the African American, Jewish, Arab, and Bengali communities, among others. It views itself as an organization that serves the broader community through the ideals and values of Polish culture. Other organizations have discovered success under this paradigm, as well; but, quite frankly, we can do much better. Too often, we attempt to tackle issues as though we live upon an island – as though no one else shares our interests. I’ve often seen our community support efforts to improve education, reduce poverty, or support redevelopment; but, too often, it does so without asking a vital question: that is, does anyone else care about the issues that we find important? Call me crazy – but somehow, I think people beyond Polonia would also support efforts to improve education, reduce poverty, and support redevelopment. If it’s so important to resolve these issues, why don’t we more often show the courage and fortitude found at the University of Michigan by working alongside other cultural groups to tackle common problems as a coalition?

In some sense, our reluctance to do so often indicates our distance from real problems. In Haiti, for instance, nobody trapped beneath the rubble of the calamitous earthquake cared whether rescue workers were of Haitian or some other descent. After the catastrophic tsunami that struck countries off the Indian subcontinent five years ago, no one left stranded upon islands or within remote villages cared whether supplies arrived from Southeast Asia or anywhere else. When the United States waged war on al Qaeda after the September 11th attacks, it didn’t much care whether military support arrived from its homeland or other allied nations. In desperate circumstances, we tend to ignore boundaries set under presumably peaceful situations. It’s much easier to set ridiculous boundaries if we don’t have much to lose.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in easy times or under simple circumstances. As you read this, our entire region finds itself beset by numerous incessant problems: among them, massive unemployment, relentless poverty, inexorable discrimination, enduring crime, disgraceful education, political corruption, geographical division, and inadequate health. Hamtramck shares many of these problems. Our country also finds itself under intense pressure. The United States must develop a strategy to sustain success in Iraq, repel a persistent and destabilizing insurgency in Afghanistan, operate alongside Pakistani military and civilian personnel to defeat Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Waziristan, work alongside both Israeli and Palestinian officials to realize a stable Two-State Solution, negotiate with belligerent Iranian leaders who deny basic rights to their own people, engage NATO to contain Russia’s aggression against former Soviet satellites, contain the spread of extremist Islamic power in the Horn of Africa and throughout the Sahara, confront the expansion of Socialism in South America, engage allies in Latin and South America to win the persistent Drug Wars, confront emerging economic forces in Asia by bolstering confidence in the American economic system, negotiate with North Korea to mitigate its nuclear capacity, galvanize divided Western powers against emerging alliances between Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba, support movements against violence and political repression in Darfur, Kashmir, Burma, Tibet, Cuba, and Columbia, and handle various domestic issues that diminish its widely admired sense of confidence and optimism. And, oh – it must also support humanitarian and civilian redevelopment efforts in Haiti.

There exists an imbalance between our circumstances and the manner in which we face them. If we hope to reverse these issues, we must engage our communities and find support from those who share our concerns. We don’t have to go it alone. We can widen our circle of friends and tackle issues as a coalition. The University of Michigan Polish Club’s efforts prove that it can be effectively done; and, our circumstance demand that it must.

If you would like to support the Haitian relief efforts, please contact the American Red Cross at 1 (800) HELP-NOW or UNICEF at 1 (800) 4UNICEF.

The Polish Weekly welcomes opposing viewpoints. To contact Thomas Mikulski, please send an e-mail to thomas.p.mikulski@gmail.com.

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