The Bridge Builder
Dr Joy Cherian received the first India
Abroad Award for Lifetime Service to
the Community. He founded the Indian
American Forum for Political
Education, aimed to translate the com-
munity’s increasing numbers into polit-
President Ronald Reagan named Dr
Cherian as a Commissioner on the
Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission. He served six years on the
EEOC from 1987 to1993, the first
Asian-American member of a US
administration, under President
Reagan and, later, President George W
Aruna Miller, the first and
only Indian-American woman
legislator in the Maryland state
assembly, said, “Sambhu Banik
indeed has given of himself to
causes greater than himself and
has tirelessly spent a lifetime
making the world a better
She described him as an indi-
vidual who is “larger than life,”
who always fights injustice “and
strives to never stop for a
moment in the quest to make a
For his eloquent vision, his selfless gen-
erosity, and his tireless advocacy of
Indian and American causes and insti-
tutions, we honored
philanthropist Sreedhar Menon with
the second India Abroad Lifetime
Service to the Community Award in
you should feel good about yourself is when you become part and
parcel of the larger community.
The community does not belong
only to Indian Americans. It
belongs to all other Americans —
all the other ethnic groups.
I’ve learned so much by getting
involved with different cultures.
I’ve learnt so much about different cultures who have come and
settled here — their manners and
customs, food habits, music, arts.
It’s a tremendous enrichment of
my own self.
Do you believe that in the same
way, by this constant interaction
and involvement with other communities, you can bring the cultures and for example, your love
for cooking, the music of India, etc
into these different communities
and be part of an education
process where your own community is concerned?
History will indicate that I was
the first Indian American invited
by the Smithsonian to teach a
course on Indian cooking.
I have given many demonstrations after that on various occasions to raise funds for many worthy causes for several communities.
That way we bring many other
groups together and they find out
about the richness of Indian culture, who we really are while at the
same time we become part of the
Can you speak to how the community has
grown in the Washington, DC area?
Today, there are over a couple of hundred
thousand Indians living in the greater DC
area and its suburbs in Virginia and
Maryland, not to mention the several thousand Indian students at the area colleges.
Today we have three Indian-American
lawmakers in the Maryland State Assembly,
including House Majority Leader Kumar
Since you first came to the area, Indian
Americans have certainly come a long way.
I am so glad you asked that question bec-
You are a fixture in the
for the past 40 years, particularly in the Washington, DC area,
and the go-to person whenever
the community is organizing
something or putting something together and often it is you
who presides over and emcees
What has kept you going in
terms of this community
activism over the years and
always being there for the community?
I have been inspired by my
father to always help human
beings — humanity.
I also believe in Swami
Vivekananda’s words that to reach god is to
And the only way that you can really serve
is being involved in the community and its
programs, its events and activities.
Although it takes a lot of time and energy,
it has some intrinsic benefits — you feel
good that you have done something because
in life, we come here for a short period of
time and then we are going to go away.
My community is part of my own family, and community activism and working
for and with the community is something I believe everyone should be
involved in, because the community has
done so much for us and we must give
something back to it.
You are a clinical psychologist by training.
You have your private practice.
Sambhu Banik with the late Mother Teresa. He saw her visiting Bhopal on
the second day of the Bhopal gas tragedy and that inspired him to go to
Bhopal, and do something too.
COURTES Y: SAMBHU BANIK
For being a refuge for South Asian
women facing domestic abuse and for
empowering those women to live life on
their own terms, Manavi, Sakhi, Apna
Ghar and Maitri received the India
Abroad Lifetime Service to the
Community Award 2010.
For being a tireless soldier of the Indian
Diaspora; for founding and nurturing a
pioneering organization for the Indian
abroad; and for giving voice to the
community when there was none, we
presented Dr Thomas Abraham with
the India Abroad Lifetime Service to
the Community Award 2011.
You are also a longtime professor at Bowie
State University in Maryland, for many
years, one of the most respected traditional
Despite your professional and academic
schedules, you always go beyond the call of
duty in terms of counseling and offering succor to everyone in all communities. You
don’t restrict yourself just to the Indian-American community.
What is behind this essentially selfless
We are living in America. This is a melting
pot. It has got hundreds of ethnic groups
living in a harmonious manner.
If I restrict myself only to the Indian-
American community, I am missing the
maximum part of the community at large,
and so, I strongly believe that the only way
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