Why is civic engagement important?
By Nausheena Hussain, Engage Minnesota
They said, “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?”
They said about us, “Aiding the enemy is treason.”
They said, “I don’t know who these people are.”
These are the statements I heard, repeatedly at city council meetings, in the media, whenever a new masjid, Islamic center or Islamic school would open up.
Why are we always seen as the other? When we were born here, raised here, live here. This is our home. There is no other place to go back to.
Last year, a few of us met realizing there was a need to have a masjid (mosque) in Brooklyn Park. We knew what we would be up against. So, based on history, we decided on a plan.
A plan to show up. A plan to be engaged. A plan to be part of the community.
We met with the mayor, with city council members, the planning commission. And then we actually applied to be on the Commissions.
A commission is a volunteer group that provides recommendations and suggestions to the City Council, either on specific issues or special areas of concern regarding a government or community function.
The City of Brooklyn Park depends on citizen volunteers to advise elected officials and help them govern effectively.
It was easy. We applied to the ones we were interested in, interviewed or were appointed. And now three of us serve as commissioners for the City of Brooklyn Park. I personally am on the Charter Commission which reviews the city’s charter/constitution, makes recommendations, and proposes changes. Currently, there are 11 commissioners. All are white men except for one Asian guy, who NEVER speaks, one other woman, and me. The commitment is one meeting a month. Currently, we are discussing bringing Rank Choice Voting in the next election. Pretty low commitment for making major changes in the city.
Another brother is on the Citizen Long Term Improvement and another on the Budget Advisory Commission.
Which then led me to applying to be an Election Judge. Do you know what the average voter in the primaries looks like? A white grandpa! Imagine his face when I greet him in my awesome Midwest accent on the day of Election. Creeping Sharia!!!
All jokes aside, I am making my effort to be just a little bit more involved so that the residents of my city see me, and know I’m a neighbor, a friend, a part of the community. So I’m not seen as the “other.”
So, I don’t think I’m making any big change. Right now. But here’s how I measure my success.
Right now 8 Commissioners sit on the Charter commission. 6 white retired men and 2 women. We used to have a Laos man but he never spoke, came to 2 meetings and resigned.
And then there’s me. I feel like not only am I representing Muslim, women, and Indians, but every single non-white race, ethnicity out there. I represent all the communities of color. It’s a lot.
But I bet you many Brooklyn Park residents don’t have a Muslim hijabi friend or acquaintance. All they believe is the biased, hate filled, stereotypical Islamophobia seen on Fox news. But now that I have spent a year with my fellow residents, being my normal self, when they think Muslim, maybe just maybe they’ll think of me.
Maybe, when I need them, they’ll have my back when I open a masjid (mosque) in Brooklyn Park.
Maybe, they’ll stand by my side when/if a hate crime happens in Brooklyn Park.
Maybe when I get harassed or targeted at the grocery store, they’ll come to my defense.
Maybe I can make a difference with just my neighbors. No, I KNOW my neighbors and I are making a difference, together.
Nausheena Hussain is the Founder of Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment (RISE), a platform to empower women in the Muslim community. She is dedicated in building a movement to address leadership development, increase community engagement, and create a philanthropic legacy for change. Nausheena graduated from the University of Minnesota cum laude in 2003 with her MBA. Married, with two young children, she lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.
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