Posted by Elly Rostoum on April 23, 2020 in Blog

April is Arab American Heritage Month, and this year, we’re recognizing it by sharing a story each week of an Arab American hero on the frontline of community service in the fight against COVID-19.

Meet Juliette Kayyem of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Juliette Kayyem has spent the last two decades managing complex policy initiatives and organizing government responses to major crises in both state and federal government. A national leader in homeland security, resiliency and safety, she is currently the Senior Belfer Lecturer in International Security at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where she is faculty chair of the Homeland Security and Security and Global Health Projects. And if all of these credentials did not position her to lead at the time of this pandemic, there is also her service as President Obama’s Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, where she played a pivotal role in major operations in response to the H1N1 pandemic and the BP Oil Spill response.  

As the majority of our country socially distances at home in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Juliette has become the face of tough-love crisis management: she will tell us what we need to hear, not necessarily what we want to hear. In the process, she is advising mayors, governors, and CEOs, laying out a path forward for readers of her columns in The Atlantic, informing millions of viewers on CNN where she serves as a National Security Analyst, and teaching her many Twitter followers about the “preparedness paradox” and the need to understand a basic truth of this crisis: “Reality bites, but it is all we got.” 

The truth is this well-informed guidance is similar to what the Pulitzer Prize finalist for editorial columns told us in her 2016 best-selling book, Security Mom: “In the struggle for resiliency, there is no finish line. There is only a plan, and a whole lot of learning, followed by a new and better plan.” Right now, we are all desperately seeking better plans to keep our loved ones safe and to get our country back. Even on getting our country back to normal, Juliette reminds us regularly that our “normal” will be a new, different one and she is getting us ready for that too. 

As a long-time public servant who got her start as a civil rights lawyer for the Department of Justice, Juliette has long served as an inspiration to Arab Americans. We are proud to be sharing her with the rest of the world right now as she fights to improve our response to this deadly pandemic.