In 2016, Tibbits Opera Foundation was awarded a $25,000 grant from the Michigan Humanities Council (MHC) through its Heritage Grants program. The goal of the grant program was to help the people of Michigan understand cultural differences by sharing local stories about race and cultural history.
Tibbits partnered with area schools, service organizations, and the City of Coldwater to offer a series of presentations, programs, and an exhibit aimed at fostering conversations about the history and culture of the Yemeni-American community in Coldwater.
Over 5,000 people saw the exhibit/participated in activities during the grant period. Arabs and non-Arabs were asked to reflect on any significant changes that occurred within themselves personally as a result of their involvement:
“The most significant change that I noticed emerged from the exhibit was that people gained some knowledge about the Yemeni Culture. There was a couple of times when random people would stop me and ask me if I was from Yemen and they wanted to talk about what they had learned through the exhibit and what more can I tell them. I can’t express how much that made me feel. I was very happy! Coldwater is a home for a lot of the Yemeni people and it was good to see the interaction between them and the rest of the community.”
“Knowledge is power. Knowledge combats fear and ignorance that leads to prejudice. The Yemeni-Americans in our community have escaped a home country that is war-torn and impoverished. They are seeking a better life, the American dream, the same dream many of our ancestors sought. I want more people to meet and understand the Arab community in our midst.”
“Yemeni-Americans in Coldwater” Special Exhibit
Objects, images, oral histories, and interpretive displays highlighted the culture and history of Coldwater’s Yemeni community from January – May of 2017.
Cross Cultural Training Presentations
Salwa Alsuraimi, founder of the Coldwater non-profit Aira, made presentations about Yemeni culture to educators, city workers, healthcare professionals, and the general public.
“We are Coldwater: A Celebration of Cultures”
Held in April, 2017, this event featured music and food from around the world and some impromptu dances from the local Yemeni-American community.
“Creative Kiddos: A Celebration of Cultures”
Tibbits hosted a multicultural event for children in April, 2017 which featured craft-making, dance, music, and art from seven different cultural groups.
These programs are made possible through partnerships with the Arab American Society of Coldwater, Moslem American Society of Coldwater, Aira, and the Branch County Community Foundation.
The Heritage Grant program is supported by a $1.7 million grant to MHC from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for development and implementation of this new initiative, “Exploring the History of All Michigan’s People.” The program included two rounds of grant awards. The grants engaged organizations and individuals throughout Michigan at the local level by establishing connections across racial and cultural lines that promoted understanding and healing.