By Sara E. Teller

THE MISSION OF HAZEL PARK’S COMMUNITY COALITION is “to reduce youth substance abuse and support a healthy environment … in Hazel Park.” The team is dedicated to “reducing the abuse of illegal drugs, alcohol, and pills among not only our teen population but our community as a whole.”

In order to carry out this mission, the group works under the State-funded umbrella organization, Alliance Coalitions for Healthy Communities, and hosts a variety of campaigns, rainings, and after-school events, while publishing a wealth of literature designed to spread awareness.

“My hope is to create an impact, and start a wave that will wash over the entire Hazel Park community,” said Jared Gajos, the group’s Executive Director. “The Coalition was first thought of in October 2016 and was set in stone in March 2017. So we’ve really only been around for a little more than a year and already we’re seeing some positive effects.”

THE COMMUNITY COALITION initially sent out an assessment to determine what the biggest substance abuse issues are in Hazel Park. The group surveyed high schoolers and community members, and determined the primary focus need-ed to be on marijuana and alcohol. From there, the Coalition encouraged individuals to come forward and offer ideas for curtailing these issues. At the same time, they began to offer information not only geared toward the issue itself, but ancillary sub-stance abuse issues as well.

“We wanted to put out information on all of the effects. For instance, let’s say you have kids, under-go back surgery, and are given a bottle of Vicodin. You take a few and put the rest up in your cup-board. Are you checking that they’re all still there? Counting the pills? Who’s to say your loved ones aren’t selling them? If you see a student with a plastic bottle filled with clear liquid, do you assume it’s water? Don’t take things for granted. Open up lines of communication.”

There was some hesitation from the community to come forward at first. “In the beginning, students weren’t sure if they should get involved,” Gajos explained. “But we kept pushing the fact that we’re not a police force. We’re here to offer information, a helping hand. Eventually, more and more parents and students felt comfortable getting involved.”

The organization has been able to offer a variety of fun events. “Recently, we decided to begin hosting an alternative spring break, winter break, and mid-winter break,” Gajos said. “We partnered with Hazel Park’s ice arena and offered dollar-skate days. This got people out of the house and offered them an affordable activity.”

Gajos, who graduated from Hazel Park High School in 2013, now has an office inside the school, making him easily accessible to students hoping to open up about their concerns. He attended Michigan State University, graduating in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and minors in French and international peace and justice.

“When I graduated, I got an offer to interview for the Coalition position and decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did,” he said. “I’m not a licensed counselor but I can offer information and resources to those interested.” He is also employed at the City offices, assisting with social media and outreach, and promotes Community Coalition events through the city pages.

IN THE COMING MONTHS, the organization is hoping to address the issue of vaping as well,garnering support from local and statewide govern-mental offices. This is a topic that will continue to be on the table in coming meetings. “We meet up with all of the groups in the area once a month to talk about what’s working and what’s not and offer recommendations. It’s all about starting a dialogue and helping the community in any way we can.”

Volunteers hoping to get involved in Hazel Park’s Community Coalition events can email Gajos at “As specific as the organization’s goals are, be open to the possibility that this may be something you should get involved with. Whether you’re struggling with ad-diction, in recovery, have a family member in recovery, or have never been exposed to this but are curious about it, check us out. Start a conversation and help break down barriers.”

By Sara E. Teller

THE PROMISE ZONE SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM IS A NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION founded in 2010, with scholarships first being awarded to the class of 2012. It is one of ten original “Promise Zones” created through legislation signed by Governor Granholm in 2009.

More than 60 percent of jobs in Michigan and throughout the country are projected to require a post-secondary credential by 2025, yet only 15 percent of Hazel Park adults currently hold a degree or certificate. “With this in mind, the Hazel Park Promise Zone Scholarship Program was created to eliminate finances as a barrier to higher education for Hazel Park students, to increase educational attainment in the community, and to incentivize families to move into or continue residing in the school district,” said Hazel Park’s Promise Zone Executive Director Kayla Roney Smith.

“The program guarantees a tuition-free path to an associate’s degree for students who reside in the school district, which is made up of the city of Hazel Park and a portion of the city of Ferndale, and who attend Hazel Park Schools from 5th grade through graduation.”

Students who complete the application process are eligible to get full tuition and fees paid for at Oakland Community College (OCC). The scholarship covers 62 credits within four years following high school. Students must reside in the school district at the time of graduation in order to qualify, and to receive the maximum scholarship they must have attended Hazel Park Schools from fifth grade (or earlier) through their graduation year.

Students who enter the District after fifth grade are also eligible for partial scholarships, and a student who chooses to attend a Michigan institution other than OCC may be able to utilize it there as well.

“​Students are encouraged to apply during their senior year of high school through a brief electronic application,” Roney Smith explains. “This application is released to students during ‘College Month,’ which is celebrated in October. In the spring, they are asked to sign a hard copy form acknowledging they understand the requirements and benefits of the program.” Students must also complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and any additional financial aid application steps required by the colleges they plan to attend. “While there is not a strict application deadline, we ask that they complete these steps prior to their last day of school in order to ensure quick processing,” she said.

THE PROGRAM IS NON-COMPETITIVE, meaning as long as students meet the requirements and
complete an application, they are eligible. The only exception is if they receive a Pell Grant larger than the amount of the Promise Zone scholarship. If that’s the case, students are able to use their scholarships during the semesters they do not receive Pell Grant funding.

The scholarship may be used at any college, university, or approved vocational program located in the state of Michigan. If students receive a federal Pell Grant that does not exceed the Promise Zone amount, the amount of the grant received is subtracted from their total Promise Zone scholarship for that semester.

While the Promise Zone was created for the purpose of providing scholarships, it has evolved to provide other programming and services, as well,” said Roney Smith. “We provide a full-time college adviser at Hazel Park High School to pro-vide individualized and group assistance to students and families to assist them through the college preparation, exploration, application and financial aid processes. This adviser also assists students in accessing other, non-Promise Zone scholarships.”

Hazel Park administrators are also constantly working to create new partnerships and bring services and re-sources designed to assist students in preparing for the colleges. Roney Smith explained, “We worked with UAW Chrysler to create a two-year skilled trades training program, which operates each afternoon during the school year and recently graduated its first cohort of Hazel Park High School as well as Hazel Park Alternative High School students. We have also worked with the School District, the City, and business partners to offer paid summer internships and professional development training to high schoolers.”

By Ingrid Sjostrand

IT MIGHT BE HARD TO BELIEVE A CITY THE SIZE OF HAZEL PARK –ONLY 2.8 SQUARE MILES – HAS 12 PARKS WITHIN ITS LIMITS. Even more surprising is that among those parks are a BMX course, dog park, two community gardens, and an art park.

These 12 parks are maintained by a small recreation department led by Sareen Papakhian, Recreation Director and assistant planner. Papakhian describes their mission as “to enrich the lives of Hazel Park residents by providing quality park and recreation facilities, green spaces, programs, and services to the community.”

Their responsibilities expand far beyond just park maintenance, including everything from managing programming for seniors and children, coordinating many of the City’s annual events and renting community center space for activities and classes.

“We oversee senior programming, a congregate meal program for seniors, we provide senior event planning and a space for seniors to congregate in the evenings,” Papakhian says. “But, most importantly, we handle senior transportation and that’s in collaboration with SMART.”

“Beyond that, we also provide recreation and youth programming for residents and non-residents. That includes a summer camp program called Kids Camp and various sports leagues – our largest activity true to Hazel Park is baseball.”

The Recreation Department oversees eight annual events, and will be adding a ninth on August 4th with their Family Fun event in collaboration with Oakland County Parks. Other events include the Daddy Daughter Dance in February and Earth Day celebration and annual Spring Clean Up with the Department of Public Works in April.

“Our largest special event we held over Memorial Day weekend, the Hazel Park Memorial Festival,” Papakhian says. “Skerbeck Family Carnival from Escanaba comes down and helps us out with that. There’s also a refreshment tent taken care of by the Hazel Park Lions Club.”

Papakhian has been director of the Recreation department since 2014. She has her master’s degree in urban planning from Wayne State University, and also acts as assistant city planner aiding in economic development and coding enforcement.

IN HER FOUR YEARS WITH THE RECREATION DEPARTMENT, Papakhian has been working tirelessly to improve the quality of Hazel Park’s green areas through new initiatives like the tree planting program. “This was our first tree planting in over a decade, in partner-ship with ReLeaf Michigan. As a pilot program they gave us double the amount of trees, and we were able to plant 20; 16 in Scout Park and four in Karam Park, in and outside the dog park,” she says. “That was a big accomplishment for me because I love trees, and we are in dire need of increasing tree canopy within the parks and the city.”

In addition to the tree planting program, the Parks and Recreation Department has been replacing and re-purposing playground and park equipment.

“Our five-year plan would be to provide new park equipment for our parks in the city. Our parks are in dire need of new equipment, and what we’ve done for a few decades has been to maintain that equipment,” Papakhian says. “My number one goal as Director is to replace equipment as best we can through fundraising, reaching out to businesses in town which I’ve been able to do during my tenure.”

These fundraising efforts have resulted in $5,000 solicited for new baseball pitching machines, a playscape sourced for Scout Park at no cost to taxpayers, a partnership with the United States Tennis Association with a $25,000 grant for new tennis courts at Hazel Park High School and another playscape installed at Karam Park through the assistance of matching grants from playground company GameTime.

“Additionally, a family that provided many generations of civic betterment to Hazel Park donated a fitness park within Green Acres Park,” Papakhian adds. “From what I know that’s the first fitness park in a public park in the region. We also have a bike pump station there and planted a tree there in memoriam to that family.”

While the Recreation Department is doing great work with what they have, they still see the struggles of a small staff and an even smaller budget. Papakhian is the only full-time employee, working with the assistance of just a part-time office employee, sports and camp supervisors, three drivers and three building attendants. There is also a Recreation Advisory board of six members that meet bi-monthly to review and approve projects.

“We try to do what we can with what we have. The main struggle is the cost of everything – that’s our number one detriment.” Papakhian says.

“Personally, I think we’ve done a great job of being resourceful. My staff is the hardest-working part-time staff I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m proud of what we do here.”

PAPAKHIAN SEES THE WORK ETHIC OF HER STAFF reflected in the residents of Hazel Park every day, and that volunteers who help with park clean up and community gardens are just as important to the success of the Recreation Department.

“Hazel Park is a city of fighters. I don’t know any other city that has done what Hazel Park can do with what we have. I’m proud to work for a city of fighters and proud to work with the residents of Hazel Park,” She says. “Anytime a resident wants to clean a park we would support that endeavor in any way we possibly can.”

By Ingrid Sjotrand

BEAUTIFYING PUBLIC SPACES IS OFTEN THOUGHT OF as the responsibility of the government, but when citizens pitch in it can make all the difference. The Neighborhood Enrichment Committee is the perfect example of this in the things they do for the City of Hazel Park.

Founded in 2004 in collaboration with former Mayor Jan Parisi, the group takes on projects to enhance the appearance and livelihood of Hazel Park. This includes building community gardens throughout the city, hosting fundraising dinners and donating to local organizations.

“Neighborhood Enrichment is about inspiring our citizens to make their little corner of the city the best it can be. We are part of the community. We are your neighbors and friends, and all of us are doing what we can, with what we have, where we are,” their mission statement (listed on their Face-book page) says.

Probably the most well-known contribution of Neighborhood Enrichment are their many “greenification” efforts. One of their first and biggest projects was adopting Kennedy Park on Merrill St., where they updated playground equipment, in-stalled benches and built a community garden consisting of 17 plots available for residents to grow their own produce. Since 2005, the group has continued to maintain and improve the park.

They have since created a planting team, called the Flower Power Committee, which is responsible for gardening and landscaping public areas. One doesn’t have to look far in Hazel Park to see the impact they’ve made, from making over the corner of John R. and 9 Mile roads by building a display and adding flowers and trees in front of City Hall, to recently collaborating with residents of American House to fill planters outside the Hazel Park Recreation Center. One mission of the Flower Power committee is bringing the hazelnut bush – Hazel Park’s namesake – back to the city. They’ve plant-ed some in Kennedy Park and celebrate St. Filbert’s Day on August 20th. The filbert is a variation of the hazelnut, and the celebration is derived from the Roman Catholic holiday celebrated in France and England. Typically, the City puts on a memorial race on the holiday.

NEIGHBORHOOD ENRICHMENT ALSO WORKS for the betterment of residents and future leaders of Hazel Park. The group has been funding and installing the “little free libraries” seen around the city, and in June of 2017, they donated two benches with the Hoover PTA to Hoover Elementary for their “Buddy Benches” program. Buddy Benches are a safe space on the playground where more introverted students can sit if they need a friend or playmate. The project hopes to encourage empathy among students.

Neighborhood Enrichment also hosts occasional garden tours of Hazel Park neighborhoods, decorates City Hall for Halloween and Christmas and created the Curb Appeal Awards, recognizing the best-looking homes in the area. In July, they coordinated a city-wide garage sale.

All the work Neighborhood Enrichment does to better Hazel Park is supplemented by donations and fundraising. Their largest fundraising event is an annual dinner held in May with raffles and prizes. Typically a spaghetti dinner, the past two years the organization has taken advantage of May 5th falling on a weekend and held a Cinco de Mayo-themed event. The 2018 event was co-catered by Country Boy restaurant and featured a taco bar with sides and desserts.

The group is always accepting donations and looking for new members interested in beautifying and bettering Hazel Park. Meetings are scheduled to be held the first Thursday of each month at the Hazel Park Recreation Center and event details.

By Ingrid Sjostrand

WHEN ICE THAWS AND THE SNOW MELTS, Metro Detroit streets start to fill with the dusted-off motorcycles previously hibernating all winter. Oftentimes after a harsh season, these bikes could use a little love – or maybe an extreme makeover – and that’s where Bad Pig Customs takes pride.

“We service and build motorcycles; we do anything from A to Z as far as customization goes. And we’ve got a storeroom that has parts, so we can do part sales,” co-owner Dave Foster says. “We can’t sell motorcycles because we don’t have a dealer’s license, but we do everything that needs to be done on American motorcycles only.”

Located at 1806 E. Nine Mile, Foster and his partner Mark Zagacki opened their Hazel Park shop in 2012 when they saw a growth in the industry and a lack of shops like theirs.

“There was a need – not just in the city, but in the motorcycle industry. It is getting larger because of gas mileage and stuff,” Foster says. “It’s a shame that in Michigan it’s not a necessity to have a motorcycle because of our weather – real short season – and the state considers it a recreational vehicle.” Foster says.

ONE THING THAT MAKES BAD PIG CUSTOMS unique is that they have an in house parts shop, so there’s no waiting for parts to be ordered and shipped in. Zagacki is actually well-known in the community for his parts knowledge and accessibility.

“We’re actually two businesses in one. We have Oak Park Mark — he sells parts — and then Bad Pig Customs is about service and custom builds,” Foster says. “We’re partners but I try to run this side and he tries to run that side. He’s been known as Oak Park Mark for many years, so we threw the second business in there.”

Being located in Hazel Park has served the business fairly well too, and they are hoping to add a local bike night but are still searching for the right location.

“It’s actually a really good location, we’re right on the edge of Macomb County, Wayne County and the Southeast corner of Oakland,” Zagacki says. “We’re kind of positioned in between the little four corners, and we’re far enough away from Harley dealers that we shouldn’t really take away from any of their business.” “There aren’t too many bike shops in our ten-mile radius,” Foster adds.

By Jenn Goeddeke

THE FRATERNAL ORDER OF EAGLES (F.O.E.) HAS GROWN DRAMATICALLY in membership and broad social impact since it was founded in 1898 in Seattle, Washington. With the motto of “People Helping People,” it now reaches out around the world with a message of peace, hope, and substantial financial assistance.

Originally set up by just six theater-owning men, and named “The Order of Good Things,” the F.O.E. currently boasts over 3000 Aeries and Auxiliaries (lodges/clubs) nationwide. Their fundraising efforts are beyond impressive: Almost $10 million raised and donated annually to various core charities, locally, nationally and internationally.

The F.O.E. also is credited with establishing the “Mother’s Day” holiday in the US, and the organization’s ‘crown jewel’ is the $25 million FOE Diabetes Research Center at the University of Iowa.

Anyone 19 or older can join, and the voluntary nature of its structure means that 100 percent of the funds raised actually reach the charity, in the form of grants (partly because the membership dues offset the cost of administrative work).

In addition to its outstanding fundraising success, the F.O.E. also promotes companionship, and members often form close friendships that stand the test of time. Fun activities include bowling, darts, pool, golf, softball and so on. There are numerous fundraising events throughout the year, with raffles, picnics, dances, barbecues and many other family-oriented gatherings. Certain months have distinct themes, such as February where money is raised for the local “Beaumont Healthy Hearts” program. April is devoted to raising funds for cancer research.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Todd Caswell at the Hazel Park Eagles location. This particular charter began in 1945 for males, and in 1947 for females. Caswell retired a few years ago from a 33-year career in the military which included several tours of duty, and he is clearly not content to just sit back and enjoy his retirement years! Alongside other trustees, officers, and longtime members, Caswell invests many hours weekly into helping out with all the various F.O.E. projects and fundraisers. In fact, it has become a lot like his second home! Caswell’s efforts are focused primarily on the Hazel Park F.O.E. and also on District #3 in general which consists of ten local clubs.

Even though the F.O.E. is essentially a social club, it runs a very tight ship in its structure and organization. Each club has a team of officers and from three to seven trustees to manage the administrative duties, plus a male and female President. The membership process involves a simple application, a $15 joining fee and two sponsors (who must be existing members).

Youth Camp for ages 6-18 is held in the third week of July every year at the Eagles Recreational Facility. “Steak Outs” are currently being held one Saturday each month, inside the club. This is a large spread of food, some of it made-to-order, for just $10/plate. The proceeds for both the steak outs go towards the Cystic Fibrosis Fund. Upcoming Auxiliary events include a ‘bunko night’ (dice game) in October and a ‘Drag Queen Bingo’ night.

The F.O.E. are a driven set of individuals who join forces to make a difference – and they have plenty of fun and camaraderie in the process.

248.548.7547 /
22010 N. Chrysler Drive, Hazel Park.

BY Richard Robinson

HAZEL PARK’S HISTORICAL COMMISSION HAS BEEN BUSY FILLING THE OLD ERICKSON LIBRARY, ON 45 EAST PEARL, WITH ARTIFACTS THAT REFLECT THE HISTORY OF HAZEL PARK. The Commission, created in 1967, was allowed the use of the Erickson Library building through a unique partnership between the City of Hazel Park and the Hazel Park School District, to create the Hazel Park Historical Museum in that space. Donations of chairs and many other items from the Hazel Park District Library make the Museum a truly unique entity in the city, through the cooperative efforts of many.

The Hazel Park Historical Museum has exhibits that are reflective of the past, showing how the City was created, from its early days as a farming community through the years of growth and development. Businesses, schools, and people from Hazel Park are all well-represented. We have new acquisitions from the recently-closed Hazel Park Raceway, and we are planning more themed exhibits soon as time permits. We have scanned copies of yearbooks, from 1935 to almost the present day, available to look at on our computer, as well as some hard copies of yearbooks donated by patrons.

The Museum may be all about the past, but it is rooted in the present as well. Civic meetings have been held at the museum, such the 75th Anniversary City Council meeting, the 8 Mile Boulevard Association, and STEAM programming through the Hazel Park School District. Our Historical Museum is open on the first Sunday of the month, from 12:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M., and on the third Thursday of the month from 6:00 P.M to 8:00 P.M. We also hold our Historical Commission meetings on that same third Thursday. We are also open by appointment as well.

The Hazel Park Historical Commission is always looking to the future as well. History never stops; it is continually being made daily. We are trying to collect artifacts from the past, of course, but always keeping an eye on the future. We are working toward digital collections of online repositories of news, if they are available, as hard copies of news articles are becoming increasingly scarce locally.

Our future needs for the Museum itself entail renovations of the building’s kitchen facilities, bathroom, and floors. We’ve received some donations for bathroom fixtures recently and would welcome help with facility development from the community.

Contacting the Commission is easy. Leave a message at (248) 397-4992, email us at, or send a letter to 45 East Pearl, Hazel Park Michigan, 48030. We also have a Facebook page at We’d be happy to hear from you!

By Mary Meldrum

THE FORTHCOMING CANNABIS MUSEUM, on John R in Hazel Park is the creation of owner, Curtis Goure, who is also the owner of BDT Smoke Shop next door. Goure came up with the idea about six years ago, long before he really knew if the industry was going to be a viable business.

A long-time participant of the cannabis counter-culture, Goure began working at BDT Smoke Shop as a clerk many years ago.

“BDT started as a hippie head shop that sold roach clips, pipes, black light posters and, things of that nature,” Goure explains. After a few transitions and rubbing up against local, state and especially federal laws, BDTs Smoke Shop – and other head shops –have found more secure footing in a culture that is now less “counter.”

Medical marijuana is legal in Michigan, and legislators are watching states with legal recreational cannabis, like Colorado and California, with an eagle’s eye. A report from BDS Analytics, a cannabis industry research firm, estimates sales of cannabis to hit $3.7 billion by the end of 2018. Projections demonstrate that number will increase to $5.1 billion in 2019 as more dispensaries come online, making the marijuana industry bigger than beer in California. That’s big.

According to some expert projections, legalization of marijuana nationwide – medical as well as recreational – could conservatively create $132 billion in tax revenue and more than 1 million new jobs across the United States in the next decade.

These are not the numbers of a counter-culture. This is big business, and the growth is more like a wild fire. Legislators and regulators are working hard to keep up with the pressing demands the new industry is forcing on them.

AND IN LIGHT OF THE EXPLOSION OF THE CANNABIS INDUSTRY, all of a sudden, a Cannabis Museum is completely relevant and important.

Goure had formed a relationship with celebrity Tommy Chong, and developed a fascination for old hippie collectibles many years ago. He started collecting tickets, trinkets, memorabilia, old bongs, posters, roach clips and a myriad of other paraphernalia.

Goure thought it was important to have a venue, to educate people about the history of cannabis and hemp. He approached City Manager Ed Klobucher and the Director of Planning and Economic Development, Jeff Campbell, who were both open to the idea – a complete change from previous Hazel Park administrations.

Money is a big factor in the operation of a museum. Gaining a working knowledge of how to operate a museum has been a challenge for Goure, who enlisted the help of the U of M Museum Design group. They did some research, and found key people with museum director experience. They began the tedious tasks associated with categorizing, documenting, displaying and curating the collection, etc.

The Cannabis Museum is hoped one day to be a world-class tourist-attraction. It now has over 16 curatorial and research departments, including publications, films and artifacts. There are over 300 items in the museum’s collection, all carefully documented and illustrated to help the public understand all aspects of cannabis and hemp from a social, cultural, medical, legal, technological, historical and current perspective.

Visitors will be able to learn about the biochemistry of cannabis, chromosomes and genome, taxonomy, and its etymology. In addition, the museum examines the ancient and religious uses of cannabis; historical hemp, medical and recreational use through to present day.

The Cannabis Museum was set to open up in 2018, but Goure reveals that it all depends largely on funding and if Michigan votes to allow recreational cannabis.

BECAUSE OF THE RICH HISTORY OF CANNABIS, Goure would like to ensure that a certain part of the museum will be rotating displays.

“There was a lot of propaganda in the 1930s that demonized cannabis and eventually made it illegal; state-issued stamps, movies like “Reefer Madness,” news articles that demonized cannabis and took it out of circulation for accepted medicinal use,” Goure states. “Throughout the 1930s, ‘40s and beyond, news articles show how attitudes have changed. It was a socially-accepted medicinal item in the early 1900s, then persecuted in the 1930s. Right now, general public opinion of medicinal marijuana is polling in the high 70s, percentage-wise. That is a big change in perception.”

Many patients are looking for non-addicting pain and medicinal relief, asking physicians for scripts for cannabis rather than opioids. Doctors used to be against the use of cannabis, and that is changing. Information about the benefits of cannabis has been there for decades, but has been snuffed and squashed by competing interests.

All of this industry news results in an uptick for Curtis Goure, BDT Smoke Shops, and the Cannabis Museum, and demonstrates how Hazel Park’s forward-thinking will pay off in the near future.


ACROSS THE CITIES SERVED BY FERNDALE FRIENDS, lawn signs are displayed welcoming immigrants to our communities. What they proclaim are an echo of he familiar words mounted on the base of the Statue of Liberty—“Give me your tired, your poor. . .”

In Ferndale, Oak Park and beyond, the signs on our lawns state in three languages, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” These public pronouncements define communities committed to diversity, tolerance, and a charity of heart.

The “mighty woman with a torch,” as the full poem reads, reaches 305 feet into the sky, calling out a welcome to the “huddled masses” and “wretched refuse” to our shores.

Wonderful words, but rarely honored as we are witnessing today at the U.S. southern border. American history wasn’t much better on welcoming immigrants to our country either. In fact, from the first wave of European migrants, the new arrivals were despised and discriminated against.

Other than those from Northern Europe, many of our ancestors were accused of being the source of crime, disease, and social unrest, much in the way those from Central and South America are today by some. Although, it is well-known that current immigrants commit less crime than those born here, this doesn’t stop right-wing politicians from whipping up frightened Americans with images of criminal gangs and job theft.

The lower crime rate is actually somewhat surprising. Earlier ethnic groups often were disproportionately represented in law-breaking. The Irish (part of my heritage) were the targets of great discrimination, giving rise to signs saying, “No Irish need apply” at job sites, leading to lives of poverty and high crime rates.

Following their mass migration here in the 1840s and ‘50s, so many poor Irishmen were hauled off to jail that the police vehicle employed was dubbed a Paddy Wagon, using the word which became an anti-Irish slur stemming from the nickname for Pádraig (Patrick when Anglicized). And, just as the racist stereotyping of all Muslims results from the actions of a tiny fraction of those of the faith, so too were Irish thought to be more loyal to the Pope in Rome than their new country.

This was reinforced during the 1846-48 U.S. ware against Mexico, when hundreds of newly arrived Irishmen were gang-pressed into the American army. Hundreds of Dubliners deserted from the U.S. war of aggression and fought on the Mexican side, organizing themselves as the St. Patrick’s Battalion. These “red-headed fighters” battled American troops alongside the Mexican army from Metamoros to San Diego, finally falling to “the cannons from Boston,” as David Rovics’ lyrics puts it in his song about the Battalion. (Available at

As an aside, when condemning Russia’s inexcusable annexation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, we should consider the massive territory theft of Mexican territory—California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Putin’s moves are small change compared to that.

Other immigrating ethnic groups fared no better, being seen by the native born as people constantly under suspicion of crime and political radicalism. This included groups such as Jews (part of my heritage) and Italians, who upon arriving provided enough of their members involved in both to maintain stereotypes.

Although only an infinitesimal small number participated in criminal gangs, Italians in the Mafia and Jews in mobs like Detroit’s Purple Gang, they were often held to be representative of the entire nationality. For instance, in 1908, the New York City police commissioner claimed erroneously that half of the city’s criminals were Jewish.

Many Jewish immigrants were members of communist, socialist, and anarchist groups during the early years of the 20th Century, fueling anti-Semitism and a perception of disloyalty. Some recently arrived Italians were part of violent anarchist groups that carried out a string of bombings in the WWI era, including targeting Wall Street, and the homes of the U.S. Attorney General, and oil magnate, John D. Rockefeller.

Legislation such as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the Immigration Act of 1924 gave lie to the Lady of the Harbor’s call to “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.”

PEOPLE NOT WELCOMED, HELD IN CONTEMPT, DISCRIMINATED AGAINST, and stereotyped, find it difficult to integrate into their new homeland – which is why the signs appearing on our lawns are so important. In the tumultuous days of the early 20th Century, there was no one to say, “We’re glad you’re our neighbor.”

The early immigration waves came as a result of wars, famine, and poverty, and it is no less so today with those crossing the border from South and Central America. Rather than erecting a wall as a ridiculous way to stem illegal immigration, how about enacting a hemisphere-wide minimum wage of $15? Workers from Detroit to Guadalajara would see a rise in their standard of living and the corporations which currently benefit from paying slave wages would pay for it.

This alone would go a long way towards staunching the poverty and violence that is endemic to poor regions and cities, and could end the tide of migration. The poverty and violence of a century ago and that of today is what impels waves of immigrants to flee their homeland.

A huge redistribution of wealth in the form of an increased wage might mean that Richie Rich Guy won’t be able to buy a second Maserati or own his own island, but prosperity for all is the key to having stable, livable cities and countries.

So, let’s keep those signs up until our brothers and sisters from the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America are allowed to take their place in our society in the same manner as were our forebears.

Peter Werbe is a member of the Fifth Estate magazine’s editorial collective


By David Ryals

COMING OUT IS ALMOST NEVER EASY. Couple that with heavily Christian, highly conservative parents, and it can become nearly impossible. That’s why twins Michael and Zach Zakar, 24, fully intended on keeping it a secret from their family forever. But at 18 their mother asked if they were gay, and they decided to come out. And her reaction inspired them to turn their unique experience of being gay Arab twins to the public eye.

Zach gave Ferndale Friends an exclusive interview on their experiences, including what it was like to write their memoir called Pray The Gay Away: “It started with one simple event: we came out to our very religious mother and she threw holy water at us. I thought it was ‘interesting’ and, as two film students at the time, we wrote it on a sticky note to add it in a potential short film. Two weeks later, she tried to force feed us ‘holy grapes’ and you can say the book wrote itself. We had offers from publishing houses with horrible contracts, so we decided to self-publish to have more freedom in what we write and produce.

Their book, and YouTube videos, have made them local celebrities, appearing on Tosh. O and given loads of press from various national outlets. “After appearing on Tosh. O, we decided to slowly transition out of YouTube because it wasn’t necessarily fulfilling. We want to make bigger strides in the community and the world, so we dabbled in stand-up, speaking at LGBT events, etc.”

Honestly, I can guarantee that you’ll love our book. Yes, that sounds cocky, but it was written from the heart and we are proud of our little baby. Reviews have been equally as heartfelt. We’re glad people can relate to our story – gay or straight.”

Zach took time to reflect on being a double minority in America and how he and Michael’s aims have taken a more philanthropic angle.

“Honestly, coming out isn’t easy for anyone. Your life changes 100 percent once you come out, for better or worse. I thought, “We’re going to be those kids that took that ‘gay’ secret to the grave. I planned my whole life in the closet, but now we’re unique voices for the LGBT/Iraqi. Never thought we’d be the people to give advice to those same people. I am truly grateful to be gay, as I feel it gives me a more accepting view of the world and individuals. I am also truly blessed to have a twin by my side to share this journey with.”

As for their future Zach gave us a hint of upcoming projects they have in the works.

“There are two big (secret) projects coming up. Other than that, we are slowly going back to our roots. We want to go back to making short films, traveling the world and enjoy life! Pray the Gay Away has huge plans in 2019.

Follow them on social media:
Instagram: @zakartwins
Purchase Pray the Gay Away on