Voices of Change, Voices of America, is a unique, hands-on storytelling, leadership and media training intensive that seeks to identify, connect, train, and empower 120 diverse, emerging American Muslims to become protagonists of their unique American narrative and dispel the false perceptions surrounding their culture.
ABOUT VOICES OF CHANGE, VOICES OF AMERICA
Thanks to the generous support of the Pillars Fund and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Auburn will equip, train, and connect a network of 120 American Muslim professionals from a variety of fields to become articulate, savvy, and bold ambassadors of their personal narratives.
These emerging American Muslims leaders will be equipped with the strategies and skills to not only survive, but to thrive in the volatile battlefield of anti-Muslim memes, trolling, and bullying. They will learn to anticipate attacks and create and push new narratives that promote the pluralistic vision of America that embraces and accommodates different ethnicities, religions, and political voices.
From victims to change agents, sidekicks to protagonists, suspects to allies, this new community of leaders and spokespeople will shift the culture by creating and controlling their own narrative in a hostile landscape, communicate that narrative throughout their local communities, and amplify it for a national and international audience through social media, radio, print publications, and television.
The following applicants have been selected to participate in this program:*
Sulaiman Ahmad is a senior attending Furman University. He is studying Politics and International Affairs, and aspires to work as a national security analyst. His parents came to Greenville, South Carolina from Karachi, Pakistan in the 1970s, and they have lived there ever since. He has an older sister who currently works in the global health sector, and an older brother who is an attorney. His interests include Muay Thai boxing, ranting about Donald Trump in the deep red South, and devouring his mom’s chicken biryani. His hero in life is Muhammad Ali, who once said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”
Ziad Ahmed is a first-year at Yale. He is an American-Muslim-Bangladeshi social justice activist, and he’s unapologetic about it.
At Yale, Ziad is involved with the Yale International Relations Association, the Yale College Democrats, and the Yale Muslim Students Association. In New Haven, Ziad is a Communications Fellow at LEAP, a non-profit enriching thousands of low-income students.
Ziad founded a non-profit, redefy (www.redefy.org), committed to furthering equality in 2013. As a result of Redefy, Ziad has been recognized as a 2017 Global Teen Leader, as a High School Trailblazer by MTV, by President Barack Obama personally, and by other notable sources as someone willing to push the envelope.
As an entrepreneur, Ziad has co-founded JÜV Consulting Inc. (www.juvconsulting.com), which is a youth consulting firm that seeks to empower Generation Z.
Additionally, he has given four TEDxTalks, has spoken at forums such as the Council on Foreign Relations, has written for publications such as Teen Vogue, has worked in politics such as at the State Department, and advises for initiatives such as DoSomething.org (on its Marketing Advisory Board).
Overwhelmingly though, Ziad is just your average teenager grappling with identity, struggling to balance it all, and spending way too much time on twitter. You can learn more about him via www.ziadtheactivist.com.
Laila Alawa is the CEO and Founder of The Tempest, the fastest-growing media company changing the global narrative of diverse millennial women. She was named to the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 list. In 2017, she gave a TED Talk on her work with The Tempest. Since founding The Tempest, Laila has been quoted in nationwide outlets like The New York Times, The Guardian, and CNN Money as a disruptive force in media. She’s also the host of The Expose, a weekly podcast tackling tough topics with snark and wit. In 2016, she got her own Snopes page(it’s a weird story). Prior to founding The Tempest, Laila was a research specialist at Princeton University, studying socio-cognitive processing under the framework of community identity and belonging. She is currently working on her first book. In her spare time, you can find Laila watching “Catfish,” “Archer,” or “The Office” for the seventh or eighth time, playing with one of her two cats, or drinking iced mochas in the middle of the winter from her favorite coffee shop. She’s inspired by her seven younger siblings, who hold her accountable to her promises.
Su’ad Abdul Khabeer is a scholar-artist-activist who uses anthropology and performance to explore the intersections of race and popular culture. Su’ad is currently an associate professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan. She received her PhD in cultural anthropology from Princeton University and is a graduate from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and completed the Islamic Studies diploma program of the Institute at Abu Nour University (Damascus). Her latest work, Muslim Cool: Race, Religion and Hip Hop in the United States (NYU Press 2016), is an ethnography on Islam and hip hop that examines how intersecting ideas of Muslimness and Blackness challenge and reproduce the meanings of race in the US. Su’ad represents “Brooklyn, New York City/where they paint murals of Biggie” and is the proud daughter of Amina Amatul Haqq (Audrey Weeks).
Dr. Debbie Almontaser is an internationally recognized, award-winning educator, entrepreneur, speaker and authority on cross cultural understanding. She is an influential community leader and the Founder and CEO of Bridging Cultures Group Inc., a for-profit business that provides professional development and coaching for companies, universities, firms, and K–12 education personnel. Dr. Almontaser was the founding and former principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn, NY. A twenty-five-year veteran of the NYC Public School System, she taught special education, inclusion, trained teachers in literacy, and served as a multicultural specialist and diversity advisor. Currently, she is the Board President of the Muslim Community Network (www.mcnny.org) and sits on the boards of the Yemeni American Merchants Association, Therapy and Learning Center Preschool, eMgage National, and ADC National. She frequently lectures, serves on panels, facilitates teacher and public workshops on cultural diversity, conflict resolution, Arab Culture, Islam, Muslims in America, interfaith coalition building and youth leadership at schools, universities, libraries, museums, faith-based organizations, churches, synagogues, as well as national and international conferences. Dr. Almontaser is also known for her leadership role in organizing the historic Yemeni Bodega Strike Rally and I Am a Muslim Too Rally with Russel Simmons. She was raised by parents who were very giving and even though they didn’t have much to give; they gave their time to friends, neighbors and causes. Therefore, it has been embedded in her to continue to do the same with the platform that she has. Dr. Almontaser found that non-profit leadership and movement-based work give her life meaning and give others a chance for a better life.
Zaki Barzinji is a public affairs consultant with a passion for bridge-building and storytelling. He served in the Obama White House as Senior Associate Director of Public Engagement and the President’s liaison to Muslim-Americans, Arab-Americans, Sikh-Americans, and other minority faiths. As the first senior official to focus primarily on those constituencies, he worked to amplify voices and narratives seldom represented at the highest levels of government, and collaborated with his colleagues on building relationships between marginalized communities. Before joining the White House, Zaki represented the Commonwealth of Virginia to Congress, the federal government, and other states as Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. Previously, he advised Governor McAuliffe on technology policy and helped guide the launch of Virginia’s open data portal, while also serving as the Governor’s liaison to the Virginia Asian Advisory Board. Before joining McAuliffe’s administration, Zaki served as his outreach director for AAPI communities during the 2013 gubernatorial campaign. In addition to his public service, Zaki directed SBC, a chamber of commerce for minority-owned businesses in the healthcare and tech industries. He is a graduate of Virginia Tech, devout Jedi, fiction writer, lucky husband to wife Michelle, and proud new father of baby Zoon.
Suzan El-Rayess is Director of Operations, Strategy & Development at Jetpac Inc, a nonprofit dedicated to teach and train American Muslims and minority allies on political advocacy, grassroots mobilization and technology application. An advocate for diversity and representation of minority and faith communities in public service, Suzan previously served as Director of Civic Engagement for the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC), leading its public affairs, interfaith engagement and media relations work. Prior to this, she led as Director of Development, shaping ISBCC’s financial sustainability strategy and long-term vision to meet the needs of its 1,400 diverse congregants. Suzan also worked at Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program, focusing on gender-based public policy and leadership research, and has served as an advisor to political candidates and elected officials at the City and State levels. She holds a Master of Public Administration in Urban Policy and Public Sector Management from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Affairs from Northeastern University.
Amna Farooqi is a community organizer in South Georgia. Originally from Maryland, Farooqi ended up in the South by way of Israel/Palestine. A proud Terp, she studied political science at the University of Maryland, College Park, with a concentration in Israel Studies. She was involved in J Street U, the pro-Israel, anti-occupation student arm of J Street, for four years and served as president of the J Street U National Student Board her senior year. The first Muslim president, she built relationships in the American Jewish community and worked with Jewish students and leaders across the country to get communal institutions to vocally oppose settlement expansion. She also spent time on the ground in Israel and the West Bank studying, traveling, organizing educational trips and direct actions, and building relationships with local activists. After graduating, she interned at The White House, assisting Jewish, labor, and progressive outreach, and West Wing Writers, a speechwriting firm founded by Obama/Clinton speechwriters. She moved to Georgia to work on a congressional campaign to elect Jon Ossoff, and is currently working to develop more progressive infrastructure in Southwest Georgia. She enjoys eating pineapple pizza with jalapenos, reading Modern Love columns, and watching Broad City.
Fahim Gulamali is the Assistant Director of Social Justice Education and Programming at the Pro Humanitate Insitute (PHI), where he manages and coordinates social justice initiatives at Wake Forest University. He received his B.A. from Wake Forest University, where he studied Religion, Anthropology, and Spanish. After graduating, Fahim was the Program Coordinator for the Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN), a national organization that prepares college women for leadership in the public policy arena through seminars in Washington, DC. Most importantly, Fahim has an undying love for Beyoncé.
Maysan Haydar is the Muslim Chaplain in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at Oberlin College. She is also a PhD student in the Department of History at the Ohio State University, with a specialization in Modern U.S. History, and with minor fields in Islamic History and Military History. Her dissertation chronicles the development of the American Muslim community in the mid-to-late 20th century. In a previous life, she was a writer and editor at, among others, Martha Stewart Living, SPIN, and The Nation. The only famous person she loved just as much after she met as before is Edward Said.
Blair Imani is an author and activist living in Brooklyn, New York. She currently serves as the Civic Action & Campaigning Lead at DoSomething.org, the largest tech company exclusively for young people and social change. In the summer 2017, Blair came out on national television as a queer Muslim woman and began working with GLAAD to elevate the stories of queer people of faith. Blair Imani was first described as an activist following her July 2016 arrest at a Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge in response to the killing of Alton Sterling.
Naaima Khan is a budding writer and social innovation whisperer at the Bush Foundation, started by Archibald G. Bush in St. Paul, Minnesota. She works as a program manager with the Foundation’s Community Innovation team. As a volunteer, Naaima speaks for and serves on the board of the Islamic Resource Group, an organization committed to dispelling misconceptions about Islam and the Muslim community. Naaima has presented at and emceed a Twin Cities-based TED-style forum called Ignite Minneapolis. She provides insights about Muslim Americans through radio interviews and in-person speaking engagements. She is an avid reader, an aspiring transformational change agent, and a data-meaning-making enthusiast. Naaima is inspired by content that challenges audiences to broaden their perspectives, simple yet elegant design choices and stories of resilience.
Shreen Khan is a San Francisco based journalist passionate about storytelling and the human impact behind headlines. She has a background in news production, anthropology, and international relations with a focus on the Middle East. She currently works as a producer at AJ+, the award winning digital channel of the Al Jazeera media network. At AJ+ she plans future content, produces news and current event videos and occasionally presents those stories on camera. Prior to that she produced for Al Jazeera English’s social media TV show, The Stream. She has interviewed hundreds of people, from Twitter activists to former heads of state. Shreen works to connect the dots (policy, theory, person on the street) with a lens that gravitates toward social, cultural, and geographic difference. In her spare time she enjoys iPhone 6 photography, rekindling her love of Urdu and Arabic language, and cooking her grandmother’s Hyderabadi recipes.
Mahdia Lynn is the founder and Executive Director of Masjid al-Rabia–a women centered, LGBTQ affirming, pluralist mosque in Chicago–where she has spearheaded unprecedented programming in support of marginalized Muslims. Mahdia’s prolific career as a community organizer has centered transgender liberation, disability justice, prison abolition, and youth suicide prevention. Her Black and Pink Crescent program provides services for hundreds of incarcerated LGBTQ Muslims across the globe. Mahdia lives in Chicago where she is a senior caregiver and works as a freelance writer, speaker and educator. A Shi’i Muslim woman of trans experience, Mahdia is the only openly transgender woman to lead a mosque in the western hemisphere.
Mahdia’s role model is Sufi poet Rabi’a al-Adawiyya, who wrote “Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist.”
Jenan Mohajir is an educator, a storyteller, a mother and a believer in building relationships across the lines that separate us. She currently serves as the Leadership Curriculum Consultant at Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), where she oversees the development and implementation of the Student Leadership curriculum. For the last 10 years, Jenan has served as a senior staff member at IFYC and has trained hundreds of young people from religious and non-religious backgrounds to be interfaith leaders who create a different story of engagement in our polarized world. Jenan is also a Founding Board Member at HEART Women & Girls, a nationally recognized nonprofit that promotes sexual health and awareness of sexual violence in faith communities. Jenan is deeply inspired by the stories from her family and her faith to create change at the intersections of gender, sexuality, race and religion. Jenan loves collecting old children’s books and lives on the south side of Chicago with her husband and three children.
Roya Naderi is the Director of Communications at Karam Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to building a better future for Syria. She has worked with Karam for three years, starting as a volunteer, then intern, and now staff. In her spare time, Roya likes to read novels and help friends plan parties. She loves reality television and staying up-to-date with what celebrities are up to. Roya graduated from DePaul University where she studied Political Science and Islamic World Studies. She originally planned on enrolling in a graduate or professional program, however is very dedicated to her current work at Karam. She has always been inspired by the work of Karam and recently had the opportunity to travel to the Syrian-Turkish border where she volunteered as a visiting mentor at Karam House and worked with Syrian refugee youth. She looks up to her parents, both immigrants that left Iran to pursue higher education before the revolution. She is inspired by the stories of many immigrants, who like her own parents sacrificed living in the comfort of their homeland surrounded by family to achieve greater opportunities abroad. She has visited Iran with her family many times and loves to visit her extended family abroad. Roya loves to make jokes and laugh – her dream job is to be a stand up comedian that travels the world to make others laugh.
Precious Rasheeda Muhammad, a.k.a. “The History Detective,” is an independent scholar, author, lecturer, and researcher widely recognized for her original research contributions to the study of Islam in America, including her discovery of a forgotten 224-page autobiography of an African of Muslim heritage who served in the American Civil War; her “Presidential Engagement with Muslim Communities” exhibit for the U.S. Department of State; and her “Muslims and the Making of America” special report published by the Muslim Public Affairs Council and widely-distributed to hundreds of policymakers and change-makers in Washington, D.C., including members of Congress and White House officials. Precious’s contributions can be found in academic journals, newspapers, magazines, encyclopedias, exhibits, award-winning books; on CNN.Com and NPR; at the Smithsonian; and more. Precious also brings decades of commitment to interfaith work, including chaplaincy work at a 770-bed hospital and significant roles in planning and implementing the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions. For her community-building work, in the academic community and beyond, Coe College awarded Precious an honorary doctorate in 2010. These words of one of her heroes, Imam W.D. Mohammed, is an inspiration for her life’s work: “The highest purpose for human life and existence is community life.” www.preciousspeaks.com
Qasim Rashid is a best-selling and critically acclaimed author, practicing attorney, National Spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, and Executive Director of AMI APS, a human rights NGO dedicated to advancing international peace and security. He is a former visiting fellow at Harvard University’s Prince AlWaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies program. Qasim is the author of three books, #TalkToMe: Changing the Narrative on Race, Religion, & Education (2016), EXTREMIST: A Response to Geert Wilders & Terrorists Everywhere (2014), and The Wrong Kind of Muslim: An Untold Story of Persecution & Perseverance (2013). In addition, Qasim has contributed to By the Dawn’s Early Light: Short Stories by American Converts to Islam (2009), and Towards a Greater Jihad: Using the Pen in Islam’s Defense (2008). Qasim regularly publishes in multiple platforms including on TIME, The Independent, and Washington Post. He regularly speaks at a variety of universities and houses of worship, and interviews in a variety of media including the New York Times, FOX, CNN, and Muslim Television Ahmadiyya International. Qasim, his wife Ayesha, and their three children reside in Virginia. He dreams of one day walking on another planet.
Ikhlas Saleem is an experienced digital content manager and strategist with an interest in simplifying complex topics to increase dialogue and understanding, while extending the boundaries of inclusion in public discourse. Her areas of passion and expertise include religion, culture and education. Through various communication platforms, Ikhlas engages scholars and practitioners in collaborative processes that interrogate the role of religion and community in advancing social issues. In her spare time she likes to maintain at least 2-3 side hustles (currently building a travel agency) and enjoys running and traveling.
* This list is subject to change, depending on applicant availability