An evening of visual poetry with Folklore Films

Houston, 5 March 2016 — As one of the nation’s most diverse cities, Houston sees hundreds of faith and cultural communities gather to practice with vibrant music every night of the week. In celebration of this diversity, the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center, Houston co-hosted an open film screening and concert in conjunction with the City of Sugar Land.

Visitors engage in discussion after the concert and screening at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center, Houston. Kristin Dotson
Visitors engage in discussion after the concert and screening at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center, Houston.
Kristin Dotson

Houston, 5 March 2016 — What do Jewish cantorial music, gospel a cappella troupes, Mexican devotional dancers, and Indian classical vocalists have in common? They have all found a comfortable and nurturing home in Houston, Texas.

As one of the nation’s most diverse cities, Houston sees hundreds of faith and cultural communities gather to practice with vibrant music every night of the week. In celebration of this diversity, the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center, Houston co-hosted an open film screening and concert in conjunction with the City of Sugar Land.

Folklore Films, a visual anthropology project initially funded by the Houston Arts Alliance, presented their recent media project, or “visual poem,” titled Voices of the Spirit V. Both documentary and poetry, the project follows the personal stories of the exceptional, devotional performers featured in the annual Voices of the Spirit Concert series in Houston.

“Do not think of this as a linear story, bound by chronology,” emphasised Folklore Films founder, Marlon Hall. “Rather think of it as a poem, with different stanzas and cross-cutting themes.”

The film’s producer, Danielle Fanfair, spoke to the tremendous diversity and generosity they encountered while making the film. “We are so honored to be invited into the Ismaili Center’s beautiful space today to screen Voices of the Spirit,” she said.

Stanzas of the evening’s film screening were punctuated with short performances by neo-soul musician and fellow Houstonian, Michele Thibeaux. Her “soundscapes” included arresting scales sung a cappella and full, uplifting R&B originals with accompaniment on drums and bass guitar.

As the evening concluded, visitors from communities across Sugar Land mingled at a reception in the lobby. The Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center in Sugar Land, which itself references traditional Islamic as well as contemporary Texan architecture, added to the rich artistry of faith traditions that anchored the evening’s programme.

Information session helps families to access affordable healthcare

Houston, 24 January 2016 — A coalition of organisations came together at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center in Sugar Land, Texas to help local families and business owners enrol in health plans supported by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ahead of the 30 January deadline.

Nearly a dozen a dozen private insurance brokers and experts helped families and business owners enrol in ACA-supported health plans at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center, Houston. Ismaili Council for the USA
Nearly a dozen a dozen private insurance brokers and experts helped families and business owners enrol in ACA-supported health plans at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center, Houston.
Ismaili Council for the USA

Houston, 24 January 2016 — “The greatest wealth is health” penned the classical poet Virgil. Uninsured or underinsured Americans have long faced significant, if not catastrophic, financial setbacks when confronted with unforeseen medical situations.

With the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), health reform in the United States has opened doors for millions of additional Americans to obtain health insurance. However the process has been mired in complexity and confusion.

A coalition of organisations came together at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center in Sugar Land, Texas to help local families and business owners enrol in ACA-supported health plans.

The South Asian Chamber of Commerce, Asian American Health Coalition of Greater Houston, and the Ismaili Council for Southwestern United States enlisted the assistance of nearly a dozen private insurance brokers and experts to host the information event in advance of the 30 January enrolment deadline. Mustafa Tameez of Fox 26 and experts Nadir Shah Daya and Travis Middleton educated the audience on individual and business aspects of the ACA and how to avail of its benefits.

Access to health insurance is vital to the financial security of households across the United States. In the words of U.S. President Barack Obama, “In the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one should go broke just because they get sick.”

Mohamed Keshavjee speaks on South African human rights struggle at book launch

Houston, 24 April 2016 — Dr Mohamed Keshavjee spoke at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center about identity building among minority communities in Apartheid-era South Africa. The talk drew on his latest book, Into That Heaven of Freedom: The Impact of Apartheid on an Indian Family’s Diasporic History, which paints the backdrop against which two central figures in the human rights struggle emerged.

Dr Mohamed Keshavjee shares a humorous anecdote from his book, "Into That Heaven of Freedom". Noordin Lalani
Dr Mohamed Keshavjee shares a humorous anecdote from his book, "Into That Heaven of Freedom".
Noordin Lalani

Houston, 24 April 2016 — Dr Mohamed Keshavjee spoke at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center about identity building among minority communities in Apartheid-era South Africa. The talk drew on his latest book, Into That Heaven of Freedom: The Impact of Apartheid on an Indian Family’s Diasporic History, which paints the backdrop against which two central figures in the human rights struggle emerged — Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

Dr Keshavjee described the challenges of finding one’s identity in a country where the rules of law were designed to disadvantage and marginalise those of a different skin colour. He shared vivid anecdotes that illustrate the importance of a community in providing hope for the local people whose lives were being destroyed by systematic racism.

“The youth are never told about their culture, their heritage,” said Dr Keshavjee. “When you deprive someone of their history, you take away a person’s person. We have to teach them — not to burden them, but to enlighten them on how far we’ve come and how far we have to go,” he said.

Dr Keshavjee is a noted international alternative dispute resolution scholar, and observer of African studies. He is also the recipient of the 2016 Gandhi, King and Ikeda Award for Peace, which was given in recognition of his global work to promote peace and human rights through mediation training.

Hosted by the Ismaili Council for the Southwestern United States and the World Affairs Council of Greater Houston, the event also included a discussion moderated by World Affairs Council of CEO Farah Killidar. Dr Keshavjee had given a similar presentation the day before at the University of Texas Austin.

Texas Legislature recognises Navroz with Ismaili Center proclamation

Houston, 26 March 2016 — Celebrating the beginning of a new year and the first week of spring, the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center was filled with colours and spiced with culture as the Ismaili community shared the festive occasion of Navroz with friends and leaders in the Greater Houston community.

Texas Secretary of State, Honorable Carlos Cascos, delivers a keynote address at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center urging the benefits of diversity and civic engagement. Ismaili Council for the USA
Texas Secretary of State, Honorable Carlos Cascos, delivers a keynote address at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center urging the benefits of diversity and civic engagement.
Ismaili Council for the USA

Houston, 26 March 2016 — Celebrating the beginning of a new year and the first week of spring, the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center was filled with colours and spiced with culture as the Ismaili community shared the festive occasion of Navroz with friends and leaders in the Greater Houston community.

Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos and United States Congressman Pete Olson were among those in attendance and delivered keynote speeches.

“Part of what makes Texas great are its people — its diversity,” said Secretary Cascos to a packed hall of guests whose backgrounds exemplified that diversity. The Secretary of State spoke about the importance of education and remind the audience about the importance of civic engagement — beginning with the responsibility of voting, then going beyond by educating others to vote and learning about issues and policies.

Officially recognizing Navroz, Congressman Olson delivered an official Certificate of Congressional Recognition to the Center, while State Representative Gene Wu sent a signed State of Texas Resolution, proclaiming, “The Center has served a large population of Shia Ismaili Muslims in the Houston area; exemplifying the core values of the Ismaili community, the Center incorporates spaces for spiritual contemplation, social and cultural gatherings, and intellectual engagement; moreover it promotes understanding and friendship among people of diverse backgrounds and faiths through a variety of cultural and educational events.”

The Congressman was particularly excited about celebrating Navroz with the Ismaili community, especially with the Center being located in his hometown of Sugar Land. “Navroz celebrates spring — trees, flowers blooming, and longer days,” he said. He quoted Surah Ya-Sin from the Holy Qur’an, which reflects the spirit of gratitude for blessings and an outlook of optimism towards the future.

President Murad Ajani of the Ismaili Council for the Southwestern United States connected the meaning of Navroz with the ethos of the Ismaili Muslim community.

“We are proud of the role and potential that this Center has in advancing the pursuit of learning and building trust across all communities that call Houston home.” he said. “As we look forward to this new year and beyond, we are grateful for your partnership.”

“Together, we can facilitate dialogue, research and understanding — and thereby help create a truly pluralistic society.”

Consul General of Pakistan speaks about investment opportunities and social impact

Houston, 28 January 2016 — The Honorable Afzaal Mahmood, Consul General of Pakistan was the guest of honour today at a luncheon hosted by the American Ismaili Chamber of Commerce and the Ismaili Council for the Southwestern United States.

Afzaal Mahmood, Consul General of Pakistan was the guest of honour at a luncheon hosted at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center, Houston. Ismaili Council for the USA
Afzaal Mahmood, Consul General of Pakistan was the guest of honour at a luncheon hosted at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center, Houston.
Ismaili Council for the USA

Houston, 28 January 2016 — The Honorable Afzaal Mahmood, Consul General of Pakistan was the guest of honour today at a luncheon hosted by the American Ismaili Chamber of Commerce and the Ismaili Council for the Southwestern United States.

Join by his economic attaché, the Consul General spoke about recent developments within Pakistan to provide for a safer, higher impact platform for foreign investments. The notion of economic capital as an enabler of social change for global underserved populations underscored the central theme of the event.

According to the Consulate, Pakistan’s 4.1 per cent GDP growth rate, along with its strategic geographical location, untapped natural resources, and educated English-speaking workforce makes it one of the most lucrative global investment countries. Growth opportunities exist across multiple sectors, including energy, power generation, infrastructure, healthcare, agriculture and livestock, Telecom and IT, manufacturing, retail, privatization and financial services.

The Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center in Sugar Land, TX has increasingly become a focal point for knowledge sharing and exploration between communities and civic leaders across greater Houston. The event drew local professionals and business investors eager to explore social impact investment opportunities in Pakistan.

TEDxSugarLand comes to Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center

Sugar Land, Texas, 27 August 2016 — The Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center played host to TEDxSugarLand, a showcase of innovative Texans with powerful ideas. Over 175 ticket holders attended the TEDx conference in person, and many more live streamed the event from their homes.

Erin Williford speaks at the TEDxSugarLand event held at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center, Houston. Ismaili Council for the USA
Erin Williford speaks at the TEDxSugarLand event held at the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center, Houston.
Ismaili Council for the USA

Sugar Land, Texas, 27 August 2016 — The Ismaili Jamatkhana and Center played host to TEDxSugarLand, a showcase of innovative Texans with powerful ideas. Over 175 ticket holders attended the TEDx conference in person, and many more live streamed the event from their homes.

“We’re thrilled to be able to host events at the [Ismaili] Center, one of the greatest venues in Sugar Land,” said Cultural Affairs Manager of the City of Sugar Land, Lindsay Davis, as she watched the seven-piece Strake Jesuit-St. Agnes Academy orchestra serenade guests in the Center’s courtyard.

Speakers this year ranged in domain expertise but shared a common theme Small Town, HUGE Ideas. Speakers included Dr Huma Jafry, a Rice University researcher with a PhD in Nanomaterials Chemistry, who asked the audience to consider the broader implications of cutting edge nanotechnology research.

Civil engineer Erin Williford showed how Houston sustains the integrity of a complex river system like Buffalo Bayou, while continuing to grow amenities and infrastructure for the city’s growing population.

The City of SugarLand will be holding a post-event screening of the conference at the Sugar Land Town Square for the public on 8 October 2016.