I've blogged before about Kareem Salama, the 31-year old country singer born and raised in Ponca City. Although I'm sure my Po-Hi '67 classmate Don Nickles has been in the White House many times, I doubt if Don has ever sung for the President giving Kareem the distinction of being the first performer from Ponca City asked to attend a White House dinner.
Kareem had previously been invited to the White House by President George W. Bush after someone slipped Karen Hughes, Bush's head of public diplomacy, a copy of Kareem's first cd but Kareem was out of the country at the time and unable to accept the invitation.
However Kareem was able to attend President Obama's White House Ramadam dinner. President Obama is not the first to host a Ramadam celebration at the White House. In fact, it has been a tradition to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the three-day festival marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, since 1996 when then-First Lady Hillary Clinton hosted the dinner for Muslim Americans. President George W. Bush continued the tradition and celebrated the end of the forty day fasting period during each of the eight years he was President. Bush told his guests in 2001, shortly after 9/11 that the Qur’an “has guided billions of believers across the centuries, and those believers built a culture of learning and literature and science.”
Kareem expressed excitement over meeting President Obama: "I shook his hand, we talked for a minute. He said I could really sing."
"It was unbelievable," Kareem says "I was looking out at the lawn, thinking, 'Wow, no one gets to look from the inside out.' I didn't know the president was actually going to be there."
Kareem is proud of growing up in Ponca City: "I was born and raised in Ponca City, a small town at the edge of Green Country in Oklahoma, but my parents were born and raised in Egypt. When I was young I loved water painting but I was also an amateur boxer for years. I enjoy classical Western poetry but I enjoy classical Arabic poetry as well. I have a degree in Chemical Engineering but now I’m finishing my last year in law school. I like country and blue grass music but I appreciate good R&B music as well."
"Oklahoma, like me, is a place where cultures meet and dance. Oklahoma is a hybrid of Southern, Western and Native American culture and thanks to my mother’s insatiable desire to learn and experience new things she made sure that I and everyone in my family was immersed in all of it. As a child, I went to Indian Tribal Powwows, heard country music artists at the county fair and watched my favorite cowboys at the rodeo every year."
Kareem and my daughter Carolina, who recently received her Ph.d. from UC Irvine and is now teaching at a college in Santa Rose, California, attended Washington Elementary School at the same time. When I corresponded with Kareem by email a few months ago he remembered Carolina and remembered the get-togethers held by Mrs. Radd, a teacher at Washington School who always took a keen interest in students who had lived abroad.
If you haven't heard Kareem perform here is a video of "A Land called Paradise" on YouTube. It's a video that expresses very clearly the love that Muslim Americans have for this country. I had the opportunity to work overseas for many years and for five years I lived and worked in Saudi Arabia, first for ATT helping install and test the nationwide microwave system we built for the Saudi's first national telephone system, and then as an advisor to the Royal Saudi Navy in Jubail.
The year I spent working for ATT in Saudi Arabia was especially interesting because we installed 400 microwave towers across the nation and I probably worked at about half of them. Most of the places we worked didn't even have roads - we had big Suburban pick up trucks with huge balloon tires and just drove across the desert to reach the isolated villages where the microwave stations had been installed. Something I've never forgotten were the astonishing nights I spent in the desert hundreds of miles from the nearest city where the absence of light made looking at the sky on a moonless night feel like you were floating in the middle of the galaxy.
I had a lot of opportunity to meet the people in the villages and my personal experience was that the people that I met were fine people and they were among the most honest and devout people I have met in my life. That's why I am so much in agreement with the sentiments that Kareem expresses in his song.
Our congratulations to Kareem Salama for representing Ponca City as an ambassador to the world. We're proud of you, Kareem.
Photo Credit: Kirk Murray
Copies of Kareem's cd "Generous Peace" are available on his web site.