By MIKE GALBRAITH
DEARBORN — Yasmeen Kadouh says it best: Dearborn is a beautiful, complex story that should be told by members of the community themselves.
Kadouh grew up in the city as a young Arab American woman feeling both misrepresented and underrepresented by the media. She didn’t hear the voice of her family, friends, and neighbors.
So she did something about it.
Kadouh and friend Rima Fadlallah launched the podcast “Dearborn Girl” earlier this year. Bonding over a shared love for community building and storytelling, the two dove right in, learning the craft of podcasting along the way.
Just a few months later and Kadouh and Fadlallah have reached a sort of celebrity within the community. Not only that, but the seemingly very specific topic of living as an Arab American or Muslim woman in Dearborn has struck a chord well beyond the city borders. “Dearborn Girl” has been listened to in cities across the United States and more than 35 countries. The podcast was recently featured in a segment in the nationally televised “Nightline” on ABC.
So is the almost immediate success of “Dearborn Girl” a surprise then?
“No and yes,” Kadouh says. “I could answer honestly yes or no to either. I’m not surprised because I’ve always believed that we needed a space like this, I just never could articulate it. And then as we developed it, it made sense.”
“And I would say yes because this has been a wild dream, all of it.”
Much as the “Dearborn Girl” podcast itself is recorded, it started as a conversation between friends. The idea developed organically. Wanting to do something for the community, and both avid podcast listeners, the pair realized that the format was the ideal manner in which to do so.
Podcasts can reach people all over the world. They don’t require a lot of recording equipment. And there’s no one telling you what you can and cannot do. All it takes is someone speaking their truth in a thoughtful, entertaining manner.
That’s just what “Dearborn Girl” does. Kadouh and Fadlallah invite a guest, they have a preliminary phone call, and then record a conversation as it naturally unfolds. Episodes have included everything from dating in Dearborn to a conversation with Batoul Aoun, a doctor who left Lebanon during the 2006 war to resettle in Dearborn.
Thanks to their meeting videographer Malak Wazne, there is also a video component to the show, including the popular “Ask Dearborn” segment, asking questions of the community.
“Mainstream media doesn’t allow us permission to be proud of our identities or to feel that we are welcome in this country,” Kadouh says. “If you look around Dearborn, you will see that this is home to the most close-knit, beautifully complex, at times chaotic, community.
“I’ve just seen so much power in this community that we’ve been lucky to capture with this project. It’s a deep love for my community, my identity, and wanting other people to see that, too.”
Given their passion for the project and the topic itself, it’s no wonder that “Dearborn Girl” has been so enthusiastically received. A second season is already planned.
What’s more, Kadouh and Fadlallah are already planning a second podcast, “Typical Dearborn.” While “Dearborn Girl” features women in conversation, “Typical Dearborn” will open it up to include men as well.
Kadouh says that they’ve received much interest from men, asking when they could be included, indicating a need for representation among Arab American and Muslim men, too.
Fadlallah’s brother Ali will join the team for “Typical Dearborn.” The podcast will be more structured and politically-minded, Kadouh says.
Building on their success, “Typical Dearborn” won the WDET Detroit StoryMakers Podcast Pitch Competition in June. The team beat out 60 podcasts and five finalists, and will receive mentorship from Shannon Cason, creator of the “Home Stories” and “The Trouble” podcasts, production support from WDET, including access to the studio and equipment, and a $1,000 stipend.
David Leins, program coordinator for WDET’s “Detroit StoryMakers” program, says Kadouh’s pitch in front of a Shark Tank-style panel of judges was impressive, leading to the win. He has no doubt that they’ll be able to build upon the success of “Dearborn Girl.”
“There’s no other podcasts like it right now in the United States, youthful Arab American voices podcasting about current issues from a local perspective. It’s special because it shows the lack of opportunity there has been for people,” Leins says.
“They know what they’re doing already and the buzz indicates an appetite people have for seeing their life experiences represented in an authentic way, and from within the community.”
For Kadouh and Fadlallah, that’s what it’s all about. Though the podcasts don’t make money — yet— it’s connecting to the community that has made all of the hard work worth it.
It’s a simple message, but one worth stressing: You are not alone.
“It was one of my favorite moments that happened, maybe a week ago,” Kadouh says. “One of my really good friends, her younger sister, she’s 14, she told me that she sat one day and binged all of the episodes and said, ‘I’ve never listened to something more relatable.’
“That for me, this is why, and you are why, we are doing this.”
Liked this story? Read more here: Aspiring metro Detroit podcasters find their voice through studios, DIY options
(This story was reprinted from Metromode Media. It also is available at: https://www.secondwavemedia.com/metromode/features/dearborn-girls.aspx.)