Isra Omar, one of MALA’s Fellows in the Chicago area, was recently invited to share her journey on a special panel at the 1st Annual Refugee & Immigrant Summit at Northwestern University. The purpose of this summit was to bring our CPS refugee and immigrant students from across the city together to engage in a collective dialogue around self advocacy; awareness; career & college readiness.
Here, Isra shares some reflections on the Summit, and what he discussed on the panel:
“It was a memorable experience to talk to high school students about my journey through Chicago Public High Schools and the obstacles and triumphs that I faced. One of my personal struggles that I discussed was finding a balance within my Muslim and American identity as I worried that both were at odds. One of the ways I was able to embrace both my identities was the values of freedom of expression and social justice as both are cherished ideals. Life isn’t black or white and each of our identities is a reflection of many of our experiences.
I discussed my experience of navigating high school as a refugee & immigrant and my passion for activism as it developed while transitioning to college. I was extremely active in high school from knocking on doors to remind people to vote during elections to having meetings with the CPS board of education to discuss how to decrease the drop out of rate of CPS based on surveys and recommendation from my peers. I wanted to make sure that students understand the power they have to make change even with limited resources.
Most of the students were bilingual and I highlighted the importance of embracing their inherited heritage and their American identities. In addition, I advised the students to network and find mentorships within their school, community, jobs, etc. Being a part of the MALA Young Leaders Fellowship, helped me develop the courage and confidence to be active with my community and embrace my identity as a Muslim American.”
We are so proud of Isra, and all of our Fellows, for having the courage and confidence to share and engage with their communities, new and old, and to use their own journeys and experiences to help others learn and grow.