March 2015

March 2015

Updated by
Lori Saroya

When I received the Bush Fellowship, I was overwhelmed by all the speaking engagements, media inquiries, LinkedIn invites, Facebook friend requests, and other attention that came my way. My law school featured me in the Alumni enewsletter and the college news. I was invited as a guest speaker on TPT’s Almanac show. A reporter from the Pioneer Press, with my permission, followed me around for several days and wrote a front-page profile.

I learned that being a Bush Fellow is a big deal and if so many people believed in me and were willing to invest in me, I had to take full advantage of this incredible opportunity.

One of the most difficult decisions I made was to resign as executive director of the nonprofit organization I co-founded in 2007, CAIR-MN. For almost 8 years, I have put in anywhere from 60 to 80 hours per week into this organization, first as a volunteer then as paid staff. I am very proud of how far the organization has come. Last year, CAIR-MN handled over 200 cases, including employment discrimination, school bullying and harassment, land use opposition, hate crimes and vandalism, racial and religious profiling, and extra-judicial exile. In 2013, CAIR-MN received the Difference Makers Award from the American Bar Association. It received the Anti-Racism Award from the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.

My goal was to build the organization to fill a void in the community- the lack of a civil rights organization that works on cases of discrimination facing Muslims and other racial, religious and ethnic minorities in Minnesota. I knew that the building phase of the organization was completed and needed to transition out to. I spent the past six months assisting the board with the new executive director search and attempted to organize and document nearly 8 years of work. My last day as executive director will be December 31 and the new executive director starts January 1.

As it goes, when one door closes many more open. I learned that the corporate sector is not a good fit for me and that I want to continue to have a career in the nonprofit sector. I want to utilize my law degree, but also get some formal training in nonprofit management. I need to have a career that matches my passions and interests. I am interested in working on civil rights issues on the national level and am also exploring opportunities in international human rights.

I have learned how important it is to be connected and to network. I have been attending more networking events and joined opportunities, such as my law school’s alumni board, that provide excellent opportunities to network.

I am also reconnecting with things I have not had time to do in the past, such as writing. My undergraduate degree is in English, but I have done very little creative writing in the past 10 years. Attending law school completely changed the way I write. Starting the nonprofit took away any free time I had. So now is the perfect opportunity to pursue this.

I am currently working on two books. One is a children’s book featuring a Muslim character. The idea came to me after I was trying to find a book to read to my son. He has a large book collection, but not a single character in any of the books shares his cultural and religious identity. The book is coming along very well and I have completed the first draft. I have found an amazing illustrator to work with. I learned that a task may look overwhelming and impossible but once you get started, things fall into place. My goal right now is to complete the book give it to my son so he can add it to his book collection.

The second book I am working on is going to be a reflective piece on my American Muslim identity, my civil rights work and the Islamophobia my community faces. This book is going to be more challenging to write but it will require me to reflect deeply and write in my authentic voice.

I’ve learned how important these two years are as a Bush Fellow and to fully utilize them. I have an opportunity to think outside the box, focus on myself, think about where I want to be in my career, and how I can work more efficiently for my community. I am thinking long-term and looking at the big picture.