With Syria and the ongoing refugee crisis in the news, Metro Jacksonville turns to the history and impact of Jacksonville’s Syrian and Arab community. The River City boasts the country’s fifth-largest Syrian population, and the tenth largest overall Arab American community. From politics to business to the culinary arts, Arabs have been making their mark in all areas of life in Jacksonville for 125 years.
Faces of Jacksonville’s Arab American Community
Jacksonville’s Syrian and Arab Americans have fostered a culture that values community, personal success and public service. Their impact on Jacksonville has been enormous, if sometimes overlooked.
Virginia Atter Keys
Courtesy of news4jax.com
Lebanese American singer and media pioneer Virginia Atter Keys helped introduced Jacksonville to television. Beginning in 1949, when few families owned sets, Keys hosted TV and radio programs for over 40 years, often alongside co-host Dick Stratton.
Today, Jacksonville’s most recognizable Arab American is undoubtedly Tommy Hazouri, Mayor from 1987-1991. Growing up above his Lebanese family’s Liberty Street grocery, Hazouri has been a prolific public servant for over 40 years. He currently sits on the City Council after winning a landslide victory in 2015, and has also been a State Representative and a School Board Representative.
Palestinian American Sam Mousa is currently Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer under Mayor Lenny Curry. Mousa has served in various capacities under five mayors, gaining a reputation as a hard-driving defender of the public trust. Others prominent in public service include Angela Corey, the first woman elected State Attorney in Jacksonville, and Rick Mullaney, a son of Syrian and Irish parents who served under the State Attorney and three mayors, and currently heads Jacksonville University’s Public Policy Institute. In the fields of business, law, and medicine, locally familiar names like Bateh, Bajalia, Farah, Sleiman, Salem, Solomon, Isaac, Demetree and Rukab all have Arab roots.