Faces of Jacksonville’s Arab American community

An event at the Salaam Club. Initially functioning as a community center for local Syrian and other Middle Eastern immigrants, Jacksonville’s Salaam Club was established in 1912. Courtesy of WJCT and Donnie Moses.

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. She joined what’s now WJXT in 1949, when few families owned TV sets. For more that 40 years she hosted TV and radio programs, often alongside co-host Dick Stratton.

Tommy Hazouri

Today, Jacksonville’s most recognizable Arab American is undoubtedly Tommy Hazouri, Mayor from 1987 to 1991. His parents and their siblings were among the cities earliest Lebanese immigrants, and he grew up above his family’s Liberty Street grocery store. A prolific public servant for over 40 years, he currently sits on the City Council after winning a landslide victory in 2015 and being reelected in 2019. He has also served as a Florida State Representative and a Duval County School Board Representative.

Rick Mullaney speaking at the Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute in 2018. Courtesy of WJCT.

Others who have forged a legacy in public service include Sam Mousa, a Palestinian American with roots in Ramallah. Mousa has served in various capacities under five mayors, including a stint as Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer under Mayor Lenny Curry from 2015 to 2019.

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.

Donna Deegan campaigning for Andrew Gillum in 2018. Courtesy of WJCT.

Another of Jacksonville’s most recognizable personalities, Donna Deegan, breast cancer advocate, former news anchor and current congressional candidate, hails from a Syrian and Lebanese family. A breast cancer survivor, she founded the Donna Foundation to fight the disease. The foundation is well known locally for its main event, the Donna Marathon, which raises funds for

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.