As President Obama begins his push for peace in the Middle East, we thought it would be a good time to highlight a recently-completed gift that we implemented at Detroit's Marcus Garvey Academy. Salam Salman, a 25-year-old dental student at the University of Michigan, sponsored an essay contest in which Marcus Garvey middle schoolers competed to propose a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Salam was involved at every step of the way: he traveled to the Garvey to introduce the contest to students, personally judged the essays with a panel of Jewish, Christian and Muslim friends, and went back to the school to present the grand prize at an all-school assembly. After reading the essays, Salam also decided to purchase age-appropriate books and materials relating to the conflict so that students could learn even more about the conflict, refine their essays and compete for one of three $50 runners-up prizes. We asked Salam to share a little more about his gift:
TGP: Tell us a little bit about your gift.
Salam: One of my greatest passions is Middle East politics, specifically the Palestinian-Israeli crisis. In my opinion, very few people in this country have very basic information or knowledge about this conflict. Being Palestinian, this conflict is personally very important to me, and the goal of my gift was to give students an opportunity to obtain more knowledge about this topic. Specifically, my gift consisted of 4 prizes, 1 grand prize of $100, and 3 prizes of $50 each, the prizes would be awarded to the best essays that proposed a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli crisis.
TGP: You took a relatively active role in carrying out your gift, as you traveled to the school where it was being implemented both to give the students some background information on the topic and to present the grand prize to the winner. Why the hands-on approach?
Salam: I wanted to give the students an opportunity to ask me any questions they specifically had for me. I do not have any formal training on the crisis, but since it is my passion, I do try to stay as knowledgeable and up to date on the subject, so I wanted to make myself available to the students so that they could maybe clarify some questions or issues they were having with understanding the history of the conflict. Also, it was personally meaningful to me to see the kids who were affected by my gift!
TGP: You chose Carlton Littlejohn as the winner of the essay competition. What did you like about his essay?
Salam: Carlton displayed a level of understanding of the crisis that really stood out to me. He was able to discuss the history of the conflict and present a well thought out, and realistic solution to the crisis. Carlton proposed a two-state solution, with the Palestinians getting the West Bank and Gaza and Israel retaining its land along pre-1967 borders, with the possibility of equal land-swaps to be negotiated by the two parties. His essay also called for a neutral arbiter to enforce the solution, such as the UN or a mutually agreed-upon third country. Really, the ideas in Carlton's essay were as good and as realistic as any that have been put forward so far by experts on the conflict.
TGP: Now, you actually ended up donating even more than you had originally anticipated, and you still have kids competing for the runner-ups' prizes. Tell us about that.
Salam: Well, after reading all of the essays, I realized that the majority of the students had really great ideas, but it was difficult for me to distinguish a lot of the essays because many students still didn’t have a solid understanding of many of the facts about the conflict. That’s understandable because it is an incredibly difficult subject to grasp. I loved their ideas, and I wanted to read more, so I decided to donate several books to the school's library--which wasn't in the original plan, but I was happy to do--and allow the students to submit a revised essay after having access to more information about the conflict.
TGP: Is this your first time giving to low-income schools? How did you find the experience?
Salam: Yes, this was my first time donating a gift to a low-income school. It was an amazing experience. I felt that the students were really interested in the subject, asked great questions, and were extremely excited when I returned to award the gift.
TGP: Thank you!
To see Salam's gift in action, from start to finish, check out the video below, and check out student-blogger Jada Wright's post on Salam's essay contest!