Posted by Joan Hanna on May 17, 2017 in Blog
Hannah Risheq has made national headlines over the past few months -- for all the right reasons. Risheq is an accomplished 25 year-old, who is proudly half Arab American, half Jewish American and running to be the Virginia Delegate in the 67th District.
Virginia’s House of Delegates is predominately male and over the age of 35. Risheq is hoping to change that. “I’m happy to be seen as a face of this new generation. In an area like northern Virginia, where there’s so much diversity, not only in age, race, ethnicity, education level, immigration status, and so forth, I want a chance to bring a new and different perspective to the body.” It is imperative, Risheq says, because “if we don’t have voices at the table, we won’t attract the best minds to the 67th District. Economic opportunities will continue to decline. Northern Virginia should be a place people want to live in America.”
Risheq has focused on education and helping others as top priorities for herself over the past several years. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Public Health from American University in 2013. Two years ago, Risheq received a Master’s of Public Health with a concentration on epidemiology from George Mason University. And, this month, she graduates with another degree -- a Master’s of Science in Social Work from Columbia University. All that while she simultaneously began her campaign earlier this year. “When I was at GMU, I wanted to study infectious diseases in developing countries. Then, I learned more about what was happening in my own backyard, in Virginia. Folks around here don’t have wide access to medical care. I decided I must go into social work and help.”
While completing her high school and higher education degrees, Risheq made time to work and volunteer. She has held positions at the Lupus Foundation of America, Syria Relief and Development, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and currently, at Health Management Associates. Risheq has done community and youth organizing since high school, including volunteering for Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign. She’s also devoted her time while in New York to at-risk populations who did not have access to mental health services. At Columbia University, she was a student representative on the school’s Ethics Committee, involved in the Policy Caucus and helped organize protests against bigotry and hate. Her passion for community activism can be traced to her family.
Family and heritage are crucial to who Risheq is as a person. Her father, Khaled, left Palestine during the 1967 war and settled in the U.S. Risheq’s mother, Yvonne, who is Jewish, married Khaled and they established a life in North Carolina, where they opened a shop. Risheq and her three brothers spent much of their childhood and adolescence in central North Carolina. However, after 9/11, the family experienced harsh discrimination and threats. Despite the bigotry they faced, the family preserved and sought to open a new shop somewhere else. They moved to Northern Virginia in the early 2000s. The themes of determination and open-mindedness were evident in her parents’ household. Risheq and her brothers were raised to celebrate both Muslim and Jewish holidays. “It was important to my parents for us to stay connected to both sides of the family. Knowing what your family’s history was and what they’ve been through, it connected us. There was always an emphasis on family and on being together. We would eat dinner together every night we could.”
At the dinner table, Risheq’s father would emphasize the need to keep up with world events, to remain engaged in the community, and be prepared to fight back when your values are threatened. For Risheq, running for office seemed a logical next step. “I worked with Run For Something, an organization dedicated to helping progressive millennials run down-ballot for office. I did have some difficulty entering the race. Some folks believed that I am too young, but I know I am qualified regardless of being 25. I can bring a fresh perspective to the district.” Connecting with voters in her district has been especially rewarding for Risheq, as she has opted to concentrate on building relationships from the ground up over raising excessive funds. “I’ve been knocking on doors, getting to know people and the issues that are working for them and the issues that aren’t. Arguably, you’ll learn more from standing at someone’s doorstep and having a one-on-one conversation with them than pretty much anything else.” She hopes to advocate for key issues as a Delegate: medical and mental health care expansion, reasonable gun reform, income equity for women and minority groups, expand STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) related opportunities for girls and women and transportation solutions.
Risheq believes her long term plans will involve activism regardless of the primary election outcome on June 13th. “It depends on how this all turns out. I would like to remain an advocate -- I will be, no matter what’s happening. There are different things that I would like to pursue in my life, but the most important thing is to give back to my community. I want to help people.”