"I am a U.S. citizen with a good education. I am also a Muslim, and I wear the hijab…I don’t want people to see just my faith when they look at me. I want them to see the real me." - Raaheela Ahmed
A few days after Donald Trump was elected to be the 45th U.S. president, I wrote an article titled “What Parents Are Telling Their Daughters after the Election.”
The article described how so many fathers and mothers were racking their brains and digging “deep into their psyche trying to explain to their sons and daughters ‘How America selected a racist, sexist bully’ as our next president.”
I noted that most parents were especially concerned about their daughters, trying to somehow explain to them, among other, “how a bully, a man who has said so many vile things about women, minorities, Muslims, people with disabilities is going to be our next president?”
One Maryland Indian-American parent was not waiting to have to explain to his Muslim daughter the consequences of what could happen in November.
Shukoor Ahmed, 53, a well-know Maryland entrepreneur and “angel investor” from India was already urging his young daughter, Raaheela Ahmed, to enter politics in the Maryland suburbs by seeking a seat on the Prince George’s County Board of Education in the 2016 election — around the same time when Donald Trump’s hateful anti-Muslim, anti-immigration message was beginning to catch fire with his base.
Shukoor Ahmed is no stranger to politics and elections. He is the founder of several websites that support voter and candidate organizing in the U.S. and in his native India. He also ran five times — albeit unsuccessfully — for the Maryland House of Delegates.
His daughter’s run for the Prince George’s County Board of Education, on the other hand, would be a resounding success.
To be fair, Raaheela Ahmed, born in the U.S. 23 years ago and the daughter of an Indian immigrant father and a Pakistani immigrant mother — Nabeela Ahmed, a successful pharmacist — not only had good examples, but also some “experience.” She still remembers, as a child, carrying signs for her dad’s political campaigns.
But real experience — and a temporary setback — came to Raaheela five years ago at the young age of 18 when, for the first time, she ran for a seat on the Prince George’s County Board of Education, only to come in a close second to the then-incumbent.
Two years later, however, Maryland’s then-Governor Martin O’Malley appointed Raaheela to the Student Regent position on the Board of Regents serving as an advocate for more than 150,000 students in 12 public universities and two regional centers across the state — “her toughest role yet.”
Asked by India-West at the time of her appointment about her parents’ influence on her early civic life and success, Raaheela said about her father, “He has made a huge impact on my aspirations to pursue public service…By living this lifestyle, he has instilled a passion for service in me and my sister as well.” And about her mother, Raaheela said, “She is a great role model for me in addition to being my confidant, my biggest cheerleader, my encourager and my rock. She is the kindest person I know.”
It has been reported that Indian-Americans are the most educated ethnic group in America.
Raaheela’s educational achievements more than support this assertion. A stellar student, both in High School and in College, her thirst for learning was only matched by her passion for service and community and by her civic and leadership capabilities.
Pursuing for the second time the elusive seat on Prince George’s County School Board, a poised, smiling and self-assured Raaheela knocked at the doors of thousands of homes during the winter-spring 2016 primary; during a time when Trump-incited anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant emotions were poisoning the electorate, but also in a county with diverse and growing Muslim and immigrant populations. It was also a time when “a younger generation of Muslim American women [were] testing the political waters.”
These factors only served to encourage Raaheela to work that much harder to counter the anti-Muslim rhetoric, inspired by her American upbringing, the support of her family and friends and by her religion.
This is the [Donald] Trump era. There is a lot of ignorance, and people make judgments. I am a U.S. citizen with a good education. I am also a Muslim, and I wear the hijab…I don’t want people to see just my faith when they look at me. I want them to see the real me.
And indeed the people of Prince George’s County saw the real Raaheela and nominated her.
Following the primaries, Raaheela said, “If Mr. Trump’s views were a true reflection of Americans beliefs, I would not have won this election decisively…I won because more people connected with my shared values and aspirations than those turned off by my differences.”
After another six months of vile anti-Muslim rhetoric by the Republican presidential candidate and nominee, Raaheela would go on to become the first and the youngest Indian-American to be elected to the Prince George County board of Education.
Raaheela gives a lot of credit for her victory to young people, volunteers and activists.
Reflecting on the last day of early voting in Maryland, capping off a long week of hard campaigning, Raaheela vividly remembers hearing loud shouts of “Vote for Raaheela!” and “Raaheela for School Board!” She calls it “a moving and powerful experience,” adding, “Even thinking about it now, it gives me shivers. To hear my ethnic name resounding from the polls from a diverse, young group of activists…it is a sight I’d never imagine ever seeing.”
Since winning the election in November, Raaheela has been very busy, visiting all “her” schools, working with “her” community, addressing and improving policies, and passing resolutions “supporting and protecting the rights of immigrant, Muslim and transgender students” in the County’s public schools.
The morning after the November 8 national elections, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote about a letter he penned to his seventh-grade daughter to reassure her that “she would be okay.”
In the touching letter, Milbank tells his daughter:
People joke about fleeing to another country, but America remains the greatest country on Earth. You are rightly scared that a man who talks about women the way Trump does was elected president. But we all know a woman will be elected president someday. Maybe it will be you.
Perhaps one day a Muslim American woman will be elected president, too.
Photos courtesy Raaheela Ahmed
Cross-posted from The Huffington Post
Copyright 2017 The Moderate Voice