In 1956, Detroiter Edward “Ed” Deeb’s musical talents helped him snag a four-year scholarship to MSU. He played clarinet with the concert band and the Spartan Marching Band (whose members had just retired their khaki ROTC uniforms) and helped form a popular student dance band—The Arabian Knights. (If you’re a contemporary of his, you’ll likely remember the Knights’ wildly popular performances of the then-hit song Shish Kebab.)
As you might suspect, the 79-year-old Deeb excels at orchestrating things. Big things. He’s the mastermind behind such organizations as the Michigan Food and Beverage Association, the Michigan Business and Professional Association and Detroit’s Eastern Market Merchants Association.
He was still a boy when he began polishing his organizational and people skills. “I sorted pop and beer bottles and sold penny candy to the kids” at his parents’ two Detroit convenience stores, said Deeb, whose father emigrated from Syria.
His talents serve him well, as is evidenced by perhaps his greatest achievement: founding and directing Metro Detroit Youth Day, now in its 33rd year. The state’s largest youth event now draws some 34,000 kids, ages 8-15, to beautiful Belle Isle Park every July to enjoy sports clinics run by college and professional players, an American Idol-style talent show, a chance to commune with critters in a petting zoo, and a free lunch.
Launched in 1980, the event’s original mission was to smooth things out between Detroit’s Livernois Avenue storekeepers and kids in the Six- and Seven-Mile roads area who were accused of shoplifting liquor, Deeb said.
Over the ensuing decades, Metro Detroit Youth Day has grown and evolved, Deeb said. “We had to do something more than just fun and games,” he said. So volunteers began to introduce ways to promote the importance of education and academic success and included new adult mentors.
Now, festivities begin with a staged program to award college scholarships, celebrate younger students’ school and community service achievements and recognize adult role models. Nearby, recruiters from seven Michigan universities pitch their tents along what’s become the heavily visited college row, Deeb said. Workshops on such topics as bullying, crime, healthy lifestyles and entrepreneurship are also on the roster.
Since 1991, the Michigan Youth Appreciation Foundation, which Deeb founded and still manages, handles Metro Detroit Youth Day’s staggering logistics. As soon as one event wraps, the foundation starts planning for the following year. That means rounding up 1,600 volunteers, 340 local and national partners, 34,000 lunches and all upcoming happenings.
“The good Lord has given me the skills to get along with people, and to encourage, assist and supervise them,” Deeb said. But when it comes to any accolades for youth day, he said, “Honors belong to all the people involved who are giving back to the community.”