Danny Thomas Exhibit: Entertaining Humanitarian Ideals

The Arab American National Museum in Dearborn is presenting an exhibit based on movie star and philanthropist Danny Thomas which runs until May 8. Thomas grew up in Deerfield, Michigan, as Amos Muzyad Yakhoob Kairouz, to Charles Yakhoob Kairouz and Margaret Simon. Danny Thomas is the original founder of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. A man of Lebanese heritage, Thomas also made his mark in the Metro Detroit area and its surrounding Arab communities, making him a cultural icon.

Organized by Devon Akmon, the museum’s director and Richard Shadyac, who heads St. Jude’s fundraising efforts, the exhibit is visually intriguing and focuses mostly on Thomas’s astonishing work as the founder of St. Jude in Memphis, Tennessee. Audiences are greeted by a large image of Thomas in front of St. Jude’s with a bright smile on his face. On the wall in the middle of the display is a quote from his daughter, Marlo Thomas, which reads, “This proud heritage was born in the hills of Lebanon and will live forever in Memphis.” In the back left section of the museum is where the ode to Danny Thomas, his work, numerous heritages, and so many other objects are on display. Images like those of him with the pope and with a key to the city of Detroit tell a story about his incredible life which was full of adventure, humor, intrigue, heart, and a passion to better himself and the lives of thousands of children and their families.

Another quote in the exhibit reads as “No child should die in the dawn of life.” This quote is by Thomas, showing how important it was for him to try to right the natural wrongs of cancer, which he spent a sizeable portion of his time doing. Thomas’ charitable work came from not only himself, but also a vast number of individual contributors, rich and poor, and of innumerable backgrounds.

Working as an actor and being born to a Lebanese father and American mother is a representative microcosm of Thomas’s ability to bridge a gap in the film industry between Arab-American culture and Hollywood. Kim Silarski, communications manager at the Arab American National Museum, says, “Danny’s comedic storytelling prowess links directly back to his childhood, to listening to his older Lebanese relatives one-up each other with tall tales.” His childhood undoubtedly played a role in Thomas’s comedy but also in his everyday values, like hard work.

“His life story is so rich, a classic American ‘young man works hard, prays hard, makes good, gives back’ story. It’s hard not to admire him! The lives of hundreds of thousands of children have been saved by the actions of this one very kind man,” continues Silarski. Many others may have been content to pursue a life of leisure in his position and sparingly do charitable work. Thomas proved a rare breed of a person who was able to accomplish his humanitarian actions by capitalizing on opportunity and building a cultural hub for children to be cured. Silarski states that, “ His career as a philanthropist grew out of his faith. He prayed to God for guidance as a young man and promised to build a shrine. Danny succeeded massively and his shrine – St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – not only saves children’s lives and shares its vital research, it never charges a sick child’s family for medical care, food, lodging or travel.” Although Thomas passed away in 1991, his work has continued to make a bountiful impact on children across the country. This exhibit provides museum patrons, whether or not they already know about Danny Thomas, with a look into the life of an important cultural icon.