A Bay Ridge Arab activist group celebrated its 12th anniversary last Thursday with a bash honoring neighborhood leaders and a prominent civil-rights attorney.
The Arab-American Association of New York held its annual gala at Widdi Catering Hall on Sixth Avenue in Sunset Park, and fêted honorees were recognized for their work for and with Brooklyn’s growing Arab community, according to executive director Linda Sarsour.
“Every year we think about people who have served our community in some way,” Sarsour said.
The Fifth Avenue-based Association — known for its organizing around immigrant issues — handed out community service awards to Bay Ridge Medical Imaging founder Dr. Shahrock Abiri, Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann, businessman Mohmoud Widdi, and lawyer Paul Chevigny.
Chevigny was the leader of the legal team that won the 1971 court case establishing the Handschu guidelines — rules prohibiting the police department from spying on political organizations. Forty-two years later, Chevigny again sued the NYPD for its surveillance of Muslim-linked groups — including the Arab-American Association, where internal documents indicate the police attempted to plant a informant on the board of directors.
The long-time civil-rights attorney condemned the police spying, but said he was glad it gave him a chance to forge bonds with New York’s Middle Eastern community.
“We think it’s a great misfortune this surveillance has been brought down upon the Muslim community by the New York Police Department, but for us it has been a wonderful opportunity,” Chevigny said.
The Association recognized Dr. Abiri for the free services his clinic offers, Beckmann for her work coordinating Community Board 10 with the Arab community, and Widdi — owner of the catering hall that bears his name — for his philanthropy.
All of the honorees expressed gratitude toward the Arab-American Association for the distinction.
“I am truly humbled by this honor,” said Beckmann, vowing that CB10 would continue to work alongside the Association to serve the community.
The award winners also praised the Association for its own services, offering free English classes and other vital services to the growing Arab community, and for pursuing immigration reform.
“I urge everyone to continue to support the Association to allow us to continue to climb the ladder of success and empowerment,” said Widdi.
The gala also functioned as a fund-raiser, with ticket sales and donations from the evening topping $65,000. The funds will allow the Association to continue assisting recent arrivals from overseas, to pursue its activism, and to work toward the goal of acquiring its own building to serve as the group’s center.