Posted by Kai Wiggins on May 02, 2019 in Blog

On Thursday, May 2, 2019, the Arab American Institute, along with our partners at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC), and the Network for Arab American Professionals (NAAP), hosted a breakfast on Capitol Hill with our Leadership Days participants prior to their constituent meetings with congressional staff. We were fortunate to have three members of Congress drop by and share inspiring remarks about leadership, the Arab American community, and the importance of advocacy to the functioning of our democratic institutions.

Rep Larsen breakfast students

Prior to his remarks, Congressman Rick Larsen (WA-2) sat down with some of our young student leaders from the Fairfax County school system. He said they talked about a range of topics, from major policy concerns to what books the Congressman should consider reading next. This was just one of many interactions during our programming that speak to central mission of Leadership Days, which is to create opportunities for meaningful and productive conversations between community members and elected officials. Addressing our Leadership Days participants before their constituent meetings, Representative Larsen said, “No one tells your story better than you. Don’t expect a member of Congress to know your story until you share it.”

Rep Tlaib LD 2019

Soon after Representative Larsen concluded his remarks, our Leadership Days participants were provided additional insight and encouragement from Representative Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), an Arab American leader who is one of the first American Muslim women to serve in Congress. Representative Tlaib, who is in her first term, told our group of Arab Americans gathered from across the country that “having a seat at the table” was essential to effecting positive change in our society.

Referring to Congress, she said, 

“This is your house, this belongs to you.”

Our Leadership Days participants had the opportunity to hear from another Arab American public servant who is serving her first term as a member of Congress.

Representative Donna Shalala (FL-27) discussed several salient experiences over the course of her political career and how they relate to her identity as an Arab American. “Part of my assignment [is] to protect and to give a voice to Arab communities around the world," she said, referring to experiences visiting Palestinian and Syrian refugee camps.

She also touched on the importance of Arab American political representation and civic engagement. Representative Shalala informed community members assembled of her historic introduction of a resolution in support of the designation of Arab American Heritage Month in the month of April only a few days prior.  Gesturing first to Representative Tlaib, and then to the room, Rep. Shalala said, 

“They will see our community through us in Congress, but they will also see our community through proud of who you are.”

We are grateful to these members of Congress for taking time to visit with our Leadership Days participants prior to their constituent meetings. Their words were both informative and encouraging, and their presence, deeply appreciated.


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