Thursday, April 06, 2006

In memory of Ghada Elayyan Feb. 15, 2006

Memory of Ghada Elayyan lacked enough Arab/Muslim support
Feb. 15, 2006
By Ray Hanania

The last time I was in the Orland Park Civic Center, some 600 people were their shooting expletives at a group of Muslim Arabs who wanted to build a mosque in the village.

So many Arabs and Muslims complained that whenever they try to do good, bigotry and discrimination stands in our way as a community.

The mosque is being built, thanks to the hard work of several dedicated and tireless community leaders.

But on Friday, January 27, I saw something that made my heart pain. And I had to ask are we any better than those who came out to denounce the mosque?

Months earlier, on Nov. 26, while working in her father's store, Frank's Food and Liquor, in the nearby suburb of Robbins, Ghada Elayyan, 27, was shot dead by a robber.

Ghada died on the floor of her father’s store. Her father, Fakhri, was seriously injured during the robbery and has remained hospitalized at Advocate Christ Medical Center. The killer, a known Gangster Disciple Cornell Tyler, was later apprehended and has been charged in Ghada’s murder.

Although many Arab and Muslims Americans have been killed while working in their stores throughout Chicago, Ghada’s story is even more tragic.

A few days before her murder, Ghada graduated with highest honors from Robert Morris College. She set an example for other students and teachers at the school. Many at the college admired Ghada and looked up to as a true role model.

While being Arab or Muslim in this country can draw out anger and animosity from some Americans, Ghada proved that she could rise above the animosity that we all saw with shock at the Mosque public hearings, and yet still go forward achieve great things.

To honor Ghada, her classmates and teachers at Robert Morris College organized a fundraiser that was held on Friday, January 27 at the Orland Park Civic Center, the same place where the hundreds of people came to attack Muslims and Arabs.

Robert Morris College created a scholarship that has been dedicated in Ghada’s name, and the event was intended to raise funds for that scholarship that will help her memory and achievements be remembered for a long time to come.

Ghada’s father Fakhri Elayyan was still hospitalized and could not attend.

Nearly 600 people attended the fundraiser event which featured entertainment, speeches, song, dance and comedy. I was proud to donate my time to help sell tickets and raise money for the Ghada Elayyan Scholarship.

But I was very disappointed, because the truth is very few Arabs and Muslims attended the reception.


Why didn’t more Arabs and Muslims support this worthy cause?

We all complained loudly about the bigotry of so many Orland Park residents when they denounced the Mosque plans and accused all Arabs and all Muslims of being terrorists.

Yet when we had the chance to do something good, few of us found the time to attend.

In fact, I saw only about 25 Arabs and Muslims at the event. And that includes Ghada’s nine siblings and her mother, who seemed to be on the brink of tears as students stood up to praise her daughter’s great legacy.

Several who attended the event said that some in the community did not want to support this event because, they alleged her father’s store includes alcohol.

I was shocked by the excuse. So many Arab and Muslim Americans sell alcohol in their stores. Alcohol is a legal item in the United States, restricted only by being prohibited from being sold to minors under the age of 21.

I don’t even know if the claim is true. But even if it is true, we, the Arab and Muslim American community, should be ashamed of ourselves for being so judgmental about others.

Some of us will find any excuse not to help a fellow Arab or a fellow Muslim, yet the same people are the first to jump up on their feet and criticize others.

Among those who did attend was Carol Koldenhoven, 40, the daughter of former Palos Heights Mayor Dean Koldenhoven. Carol Koldenhoven was one of Ghada Elayyan's classmates and school friends. The woman, who is a junior at the school, said Elayyan would often come over and play with her children.

She told a local newspaper, "Ghada was a very good friend of mine. We weren't just classmates."

For the fundraiser, Koldenhoven created a memory book of pictures of Elayyan and a table of remembrances, including the program that Elayyan created for a performance of the play "The Lottery."

Robert Morris College deserves a lot of credit for organizing this event. It would have been so easy for others to have complained and prevented it because Ghada was an Arab, in light of the problems associated with Sept. 11. You can bet if that would have happened, more Arabs and Muslims would have complained about bigotry and racism.

Yet, when something good is done for someone who was so good to so many other human beings, and we can’t find the time to help her, we should, as Arabs and Muslims, be ashamed of ourselves.

Ghada Elayyan worked selfishly for everyone. She was a role model not just for Arabs and Muslims, but also for Americans, as was evidenced by the unprecedented turnout in her support Friday Jan. 27 at the Orland Park Civic Center. Her death is clearly a tremendous loss for our community.

But worse, the failure of the community to step up and support her memory is a tragedy that continues to hold us all back.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Chicago journalist and author. He can be reached at