SOPHIA QURESHI, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS

In her 15 year career, Sophia Qureshi has focused on expanding the potential for journalism and storytelling by building bridges between different worlds – journalism, nonprofits, think tanks, grassroots groups, and artistic venues.

Sophia has held positions at the United Nations, CNN, Al Jazeera, and as Director of Communications for The Center for Public Integrity (CPI), establishing journalism partnerships between commercial and non-profit worlds. She joins SAALT off a year of academic study – she completed a communications fellowship at Harvard University where she took courses in public speaking, narrative nonfiction and fiction writing, and diaspora histories.

She is a founder of Subcontinental Drift – a nationwide South Asian American coalition that fosters and provides a supportive and collaborative community for creative expression, engagement, and positive social change.

She is a political science graduate of the University of Georgia, and has a master’s degree from Georgetown University in international development and communications.

Young Leaders Institute 2018-2019

Meet the 2018-2019 YLI cohort!
“Building Community Defense”

The 2018-2019 Young Leaders Institute (YLI) theme was Community Defense, and projects will take on anti-immigrant policies and hate violence. Shared below are project descriptions from this year’s cohort.

Apoorva Handigol: My project will stem from my senior thesis research on how antiblackness and Black-Brown solidarity have manifested over generations of South Asian Americans in Chicago. I will start with organizing a collaborative event at my school focusing on narratives of pain and love among South Asian and Black Americans. After this, I will take the project to my community in the Bay Area and reframe this community need as one of support for a group of people who has gone through much the same as we have, plus other injustices we have the privilege to forget. I will translate what I learned from the event on campus and my research into addressing my South Asian community’s antiblackness, lack of awareness of our 150+ years of Black solidarity, and need to strengthen our community defense.

 

Farishtay Yamin: My proposal centers around creating a rapid response system to ICE activity and hate crimes using an app. I would like to use the existing member base and network present in Athens, GA to duplicate the model in Nashville, TN.

 

 

Hiba Ahmad: My project is to create a financial literacy program for prison inmates in aims to reduce recidivism rates around the United States, which is mainly caused by lack of attainable financial education and resources. US prisons
disproportionately target people of color, so the successful
implementation of this program will hopefully protect our communities of color against further unjust detainment, and arm them with the education necessary to combat the difficulty of reentering the workforce.

Mahi Senthikumar: I will explore the intersections of rights and religion through a series of public talks and YouTube videos. By creating interfaith forums to discuss
religion alongside activism, I hope to break down social barriers within our community and uncover shared values which compel us to stand together for justice.

 

 

Meghal Sheth: For my project I will be working to co-program with other cultural and identity- based groups on Washington University in St. Louis’ campus to create a “Justice Through Freedom” Week. The week will include a vigil, call-in, panel discussion on community defense, and a gala with other various student organizations.

 

Myra Khushbakht: For my project, I plan to create an open discussion town hall event at Howard in the coming academic year. I hope to initiate a conversation about colorism within minorities on my campus.

 

 

Naisa Rahman: My community defense project will focus on improving my university’s reporting and response system for bias, discrimination, and harassment. My goal is for our institution to respond timely to students and to better support them during any crises.

 

 

Sarah Rozario: Sarah hopes to create a video composed of her campus community’s immigrant and undocumented voices addressing anti-immigration policies. The project will provide a space for students to voice their concerns as well as act as a display of support.

 

 

Vrinda Trivedi: Coming from Ohio, I think suburban and rural locations are sorely overlooked in regards to being seen as spaces conducive to community building. Therefore, I would like to find a way to connect LGBTQIA+ South Asians, through hosting a retreat similar to YLI, but on a smaller scale, and geared towards addressing the unique themes faced by LGBTQIA+ South Asians in suburban and rural spaces.

 

Yasmine Jafery: My project is creating an on campus club that provides a safe space for peers to talk to one another about difficult things they are going through. This club would provide struggling students a place to meet and learn from their peers that are fighting similar obstacles.

 

 

Neha Valmiki: Neha will have a session on her campus called Breaking Barriers, where will bring in speakers to talk about mental health in the South Asian community and the
necessity for civic engagement. The goal is to break the stigma of mental health and to break the idea that your vote doesn’t count. Her goal is it make sure each students knows that they have a voice and they are valid.

 

Rupkatha Banarjee: Summits and conferences often attract large audiences and transmit messages of support and awareness throughout the community. In lieu of student involvement and increased participation, I aim to organize a TEDx type conference with multiple speakers to explicate stories of immigrants who’ve experienced targeted racial violence.

 

Jaspreet Kaur: Brown Girl Joy [an IG platform] explores the intersections of beauty one brown girl [including gender non conforming + nonbinary person] at a time. We hope to reconstruct paradigms of beauty to be more inclusive and accepting for people of color.

 

 

Sana Hamed: I propose to start SEMS (Sharing Every Muslims’ Story), an initiative that would serve to unite Muslim organizations on campus through the common thread of storytelling. The project would include various ways to put a positive spotlight on who Muslims are in America and would include creating short narrative videos to be shared through social media, written features for an anthology, and even a showcase featuring Muslim creatives through which we could further engage the community.

 

 

For more information around Young Leaders Institute, follow SAALT on Twitter at @SAALTweets, or contact Almas Haider at almas@saalt.org

YLI Reflections: Combating Islamophobia with Rupa Palanki

My high school history teacher, quoting Mark Twain, often said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” For centuries in the United States, minority groups, ranging from Eastern European immigrants to Japanese Americans, have faced discrimination from more established populations due to a sense of “otherness” that they are invariably perceived to disseminate. This has resulted in dark chapters of history in a nation that prides itself as “the home of the free and the brave.” The recent rise in hatred against Muslims is just another iteration of the same story.

With the 9/11 attacks happening only three years after I was born, life, as I know it, has included a constant undercurrent of backlash in the United States against Muslims. At present, the current administration continues to relentlessly engage in anti-Muslim rhetoric and news headlines continue to blame Islam for select acts of violence perpetuating false, negative perceptions of the Muslim community. At school and in my city, I have personally witnessed how lack of a nuanced understanding breeds bigotry and discrimination. Many people in my hometown in Alabama have never left the state or interacted with Muslims before, and their bias towards Muslims stems from stereotypes that have been perpetrated over generations. And often at college, I am the first South Asian American that my peers have conversed with for an extended period of time, leading them to ask questions about my culture, religion, and language or mistakenly identifying me as Muslim instead of Hindu.

Because of this personal exposure to islamophobia, I developed a desire to better understand the phenomenon and to equip myself to combat it within my community. This, in part, was what motivated me to apply for SAALT’s Young Leaders’ Institute last summer. During the training in Washington D.C., I developed the organizational and leadership tools necessary to carry out effective change. Speakers like Noor Mir and Deepa Iyer shared fascinating insights on different aspects of islamophobia that reinforced the importance of understanding it in the context of institutionalized racism like anti-blackness and colonialism, as well as provided meaningful insights on the resilience and solidarity necessary to work in the social justice field. I appreciated the opportunity to meet activists and student leaders from other colleges and the opportunity to discuss the specificity of our experiences as South Asian Americans. I had never really had the opportunity to explore my identity as a South Asian American so extensively before.

This propelled me to begin to shape my own project that I carried out over the course of the academic year to work against biases within my college community. This spring, I worked in conjunction with other South Asia Society members at the University of Pennsylvania to plan a Symposium for Awareness of South Asian Issues (SASAI), a week-long intercollegiate conference to create awareness for social justice issues and to encourage activism in its many facets. The week’s events included a keynote address from 2014 Miss America Nina Davuluri, a fundraiser for a nonprofit organization fighting malnutrition in South Asia, and a series of discussions covering social issues like islamophobia. With a mix of both fun cultural programming and deep political conversations, SASAI encouraged participation not only from a diverse range of South Asians but throughout the minority community at Penn. By the end of the week, we found it inspiring to see that our efforts to make our campus a more inclusive space for all were rewarded.

Photos from the awareness symposium Rupa helped organize in the University of Pennsylvania.

As the incredibly passionate, intelligent, and socially conscious individuals that made up my Young Leaders’ Institute cohort carry out their projects over the course of this year, I hope to see visible change within the communities that they target, just as I hope that my actions have spurred. However, our work cannot be done alone. As President Obama notably wrote in his final message to the American people as Commander in Chief, “America is not the project of any one person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We the People.’ ‘We shall overcome.’” Together, we must push forward the fight against islamophobia, for this is not a matter of one culture or religion or language or social class; it is a struggle for achieving equality for all people.

***

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, nonpartisan, non-profit organization that fights for racial justice and advocates for the civil rights of all South Asians in the United States. Our ultimate vision is dignity and full inclusion for all.

 

 

 

11th Annual NCSO Convening & Advocacy Day

Join us this May for a powerful convergence of NCSO leaders in Washington, D.C.!

The National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO) Convening will gather over 100 representatives from our NCSO partner organizations on May 9, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Not only will it provide the opportunity to build NCSO strength through strategy sharing and problem-solving, but we will work collectively to expand knowledge on policies and legislation targeting our communities. We have also organized space to enhance our skills related to advocacy as well as make for regional and issue based caucuses.

On May 10, 2018 we will head to Capitol Hill for Advocacy Day. NCSO members will connect with government officials and Members of Congress. You will have multiple opportunities to engage with policy makers, from a morning Congressional Briefing to one-on-one meetings with Congressional offices in the afternoon.

To learn more about the 2018 NCSO Convening and Advocacy Day, please review our FAQ . Then, register to attend the Annual NCSO Convening and Advocacy Day where you can connect in person with NCSO members and be a part of building our collective power!

FAQs: NCSO Convening & Advocacy Day 2018

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Are the events accessible by public transportation?

The NCSO Convening will take place at the Georgetown Conference Center. Advocacy Day will take place on Capitol Hill, and SAALT will provide a shuttle for all NCSO Convening participants to attend Advocacy Day.

What time are check-in and check-out at the Georgetown Conference Center?

Check-in time to the Center is 4:00pm. Check-out time is 11:00am.

Are the events accessible for those with physical disabilities?

All event venues are accessible. Please contact almas@saalt.org with specific questions or requests regarding physical accessibility.

What is the dress code?

May 9th | NCSO Convening: casual/business casual

May 10th | Advocacy Day: business/professional attire

 Will there be interpreters available for the events?

All events will be offered in English. Registrants may request an interpreter during the online registration process. For additional in-language requests, please reach out to almas@saalt.org no later than March 15, 2018.

 How will I get to the events?

The NCSO Convening will take place at the Georgetown Conference Center. Advocacy Day will take place on Capitol Hill, and SAALT will provide a shuttle for all NCSO Convening participants to attend Advocacy Day. Outside of this, participants are responsible for their public transportation, taxi, and other travel costs while attending events.

Register here.

ALMAS HAIDER, COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS MANAGER

Almas comes to SAALT as an experienced grassroots organizer and capacity builder. Her diverse portfolio includes tenures with collectives, non-profits, and the federal government, namely, the South Asian Network (SAN), the U.S. Department of State in their South and Central Asia Bureau, Satrang (Los Angeles, CA) and Khush D.C. (Washington, D.C.) Additionally, she has also served on the steering committee of API Equality-LA and the board of National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA). Almas currently serves as the Racial Justice and Equity Committee Chair for NQAPIA.

As SAALT’s Community Partnerships Manager, Almas will work to expand SAALT’s work at the regional level with our community partners in the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO), particularly around local advocacy and organizing efforts.  She can be reached at almas@saalt.org

MAHNOOR HUSSAIN, POLICY ASSOCIATE

Mahnoor joins SAALT as our first Policy Associate. Prior to this role, Mahnoor worked as a Programs Associate at APIAVote, where she organized AAPI youth in civic engagement efforts on campuses across the country. She also interned at the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project and the Global Knowledge Initiative, and explored the influence of the South Asian diaspora on the 2016 elections in her undergraduate thesis.

As SAALT’s Policy Associate, Mahnoor will support the development and implementation of SAALT’s legislative, administrative, and public policy agenda and activities. Mahnoor can be reached at mahnoor@saalt.org

 

This Week in Hate: July 17

Prepared for SAALT by Radha Modi

For the first time since the election of Donald Trump, the total number of hate incidents against those who identify or are perceived as Muslim, South Asian, Arab, Middle Eastern, and Asian has surpassed the total from the previous year. Currently, 113 hate incidents have occurred since November 8, 2016. At this rate, we suspect hate incidents for the first year of Trump presidency to be double that of the previous year.

Three major categories of hate incidents are verbal/written threats, physical assaults, and property damage. Verbal and written threats are by far the most common category of hate incidents. These types of threats are typically verbal harassment of the victim by strangers. Recently, a middle-aged white man, Federick Sorell, followed a Black Muslim couple for 20 blocks and barraged them with racist language such as: “Take off the fucking burka, this is America; go back to your fucking country.” Additionally, he threatened to run them over with his car and made a gesture of a pulling a trigger on a gun at them leaving the couple terrified.

Hate incidents such as these not only signal a rise in Islamophobia but also reveal the ways Islamophobia intersects with anti-Blackness and xenophobia. Sorell indicated that he harassed the couple because he was fearful for his life. This is a commonly used defense to justify violence towards Black communities. Further, Sorell yells to the victims to “go back to your country,” an anti-immigrant sentiment that supports white supremacist notions of America as a white only country.  As shown, on-the-ground harassment is often a combination of various forms of hate.  

The fight against hate crimes and racial profiling will then involve collaborative community work across communities of color. South Asians will need to show up on the front lines for issues facing Black, Native, Muslim, Latinx, queer, and immigrant communities as these issues are intersections of multiple systems of oppression.   

 

 

SAALT Calls On Law Enforcement To Investigate Bias As Motivation in Latest South Asian American Killings

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national South Asian civil rights organization, mourns the loss of life in separate killings of South Asian Americans last week in California and Michigan, and demands that law enforcement investigate whether racial or religious animus motivated any of these incidents.

On May 4, Dr. Ramesh Kumar was found shot dead in his car on a highway near Detroit, Michigan. Hours later in a separate incident in Modesto, California, Jagjeet Singh, a convenience store clerk, was stabbed to death by a customer outside his shop. Racial motivations have been alleged in both cases.

“Our communities have faced a hostile climate of hate for years, with particular intensity since President Trump took office. This makes race as a possible motivation in these tragic killings a very real possibility,” stated Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT. “The President’s divisive rhetoric and policies have fanned the flames of violence against our communities since his campaign, and now in his Presidency. Unfortunately, broad swaths of our nation’s residents face hostility and violence as a result of the xenophobic and anti-Muslim rhetoric advanced by President Trump.”

2017 has been a deadly year for our growing communities, including tragic shootings in Kansas and Washington State, numerous arson attacks and vandalism of mosques, businesses, and homes nationwide, and mounting fear experienced within our communities across the country. The nation has seen a groundswell of violence aimed at South Asian, Muslim and immigrant communities, with numerous perpetrators hurling epithets before committing acts of violence against community members. South Asians are the most rapidly growing demographic group nationwide.

These relentless and numerous tragedies build upon the historic violence of the 2016 presidential elections. In our latest report, “Power, Pain, Potential,” SAALT documented 207 incidents of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Arab, and Middle Eastern American communities during the divisive elections, 95% of which were animated by anti-Muslim sentiment. Notably, 1 in 5 xenophobic comments came from then-candidate Trump.

The President’s rhetoric has been implemented with devastating effect via divisive policies such as two attempts at a “Muslim Ban”, both of which have been halted by the courts. This week the administration is appealing a nationwide restraining order on the latest “Muslim Ban” in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia. SAALT and our allies rallied in staunch opposition to the “Muslim Ban” as part of the #NoMuslimBanEver week of resistance. Lakshmi Sridaran, Director of National Policy and Advocacy of SAALT, stated, “The President may be a businessman at heart, but civil rights do not belong at the negotiation table. SAALT, our allies, and our communities will continue to be at the vanguard of efforts to resist this and any administration’s efforts to strip us of our dignity and justice.”

Contact:  Vivek Trivedi – vivek@saalt.org

Statement on San Bernardino Shooting

We express our deepest condolences for the victims of Wednesday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA during a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center that left 14 people dead and 21 people wounded. The two suspects named by local authorities as Syed Rizwan Farook, 28 and Tashfeen Malik, 27 were killed by police yesterday.