This month I’m so stoked to celebrate my tenacious, powerhouse of a friend Isra Chaker. You may know her as @israspeaks on the Instagrams. She is an outspoken Syrian-American social justice activist, Refugee Campaign Lead at @OxfamAmerica and Global Ambassador for @UNRWA, and so much more. In short, you should know her and follow what she’s up to. She’s paving the way for so many women, especially from her own community. Read about her personal experiences with the Muslim Ban and Syrian conflict.
Of course, I had to illustrate her as a thank you for her advocacy for not only refugees but anyone who has been discriminated against and who has had to prove their “American-ness”. It’s an honor to bear witness to the impact she is making as she courageously uses her voice for good. Thank you, Isra.
Take some time to get to know her for this month’s edition of #WonderWomanWednesday! Here’s her interview below.
What did you mean when you spoke the words “We are all America and America is all of us”?
I spoke these words at the #FamiliesBelongTogether March in Washington, DC in front of over 30,000 people. I was talking about my experience being directly impacted by the Muslim Ban. I’m a proud American, born and raised in beautiful Boulder, Colorado. I grew up spending my summers visiting my extended family in Syria, playing with my cousins and bouncing on the laps of my aunts and uncles. But I haven’t been able to see any of them since the conflict broke out in Syria seven years ago, and now, this Muslim Ban prevents me from being reunited with them here in my home, the United States of America. We are tired. Too many of us know what it feels like to wake up every morning since Trump took office and be forced to fight for our rights. To have to prove our American-ness. To have to brace yourself for blatant hateful attacks on all our identities. My family and I do not have to prove our humanity, and neither do you. We are all America, and America is all of us.
What are you most proud of yourself for? What are you most grateful for?
I am most proud of myself for not letting anyone or anything take my voice away from me or own my narrative. Our elected officials are spewing discriminatory and stereotypical bigotry about my most essential identities: a visible Syrian-American Muslim woman. It is easy to get drowned out by the noise and give up on having to prove who you are every day. But one of the greatest lessons I have learned in my life has been to recognize that my voice can move mountains. And now, I nurture my voice and stand firm in recognizing its power and agency. I am most grateful for the privilege and access I have to advocate for refugees, and ensuring that I amplify their voice and their narrative across my personal and professional platforms. I am grateful to be making a difference in this world and seeing the impact of my work especially on young girls who need to believe they can accomplish anything they set their mind to.
Why do you choose to do this work?
I choose to do this work because it is a moral obligation for all of us to stand up and speak out for truth and justice. To not be silenced into complacency. To recognize our privilege and mobilize it. If I want to see positive change happen for my community, country and future generations, then I need to walk the walk and play a part in making that change happen. It is easy to stand on the sidelines or be a Facebook activist, but true activism comes when you are willing to sacrifice everything in the name of justice, and realizing that is not a 9-5 job, it is a way of life that is driven by a mission for a greater purpose and cause.
If you had a Bill & Ted time machine, what would you tell your 16-year-old-self?
I would tell her to be unapologetic in who she is. To not fight for approval or acceptance from others. To realize that she is enough and worthy on her own two feet. That her voice is her most powerful tool, and no one can take that away from her. That the experiences of bullying, discrimination and harassment are actually blessings in disguise that will serve as the foundation to make the world a better place. And that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to.
What project are you currently most excited about? What is your dream project?
The project I am currently most excited about is being named an ICON for the We The Future Campaign by Amplifier Foundation. I was chosen as one of 10 youth who are leaders in advocating on behalf of a vulnerable community, in my case, its Refugee and Immigration Justice, or “We the Future, Will Not Be Banned”. This campaign is incredible because it serves as a catalyst of art leading change in over 20,000 schools across the country. Artwork of me and a curriculum I developed focused on educating kids across the country on refugees, the Muslim Ban, family separation, etc. will be taught in over 20,000 schools. All I can think about is my 14 year-old self and how seeing a poster like this in my school would have changed my life. How maybe I wouldn’t have been so badly bullied and traumatized. How maybe I wouldn’t have felt so alone. How maybe I wouldn’t have suffered in silence. I want this portrait to be a symbol of acceptance and hope for every girl especially to LOVE who she is, and OWN her voice. That she can take on the world and all of the bullies it has in it, and STILL RISE. This is definitely a dream project that I could have never imagined myself being involved in. I am so grateful.
What is your favorite quote? What is your current podcast or book recommendation?
Favorite quote: “If your success is defined as being well adjusted to injustice and well adapted to indifference then we don't want successful leaders. We want great leaders - who love the people enough and respect the people enough to be unsought, unbound, unafraid and unintimidated to tell the truth.” - Dr. Cornel West
Book recommendation: 'Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement' by Angela Y. Davis
What brings you joy? And if you had super powers, what would be your first mission?
As cheesy as it sounds, helping people brings me the most joy. Being able to be there for someone and help them achieve something, or overcome something, and then seeing them thrive...is the best feeling in the world. If I had super powers, I would put an end to all conflicts across the world and make sure every person had access to food, water, safety, shelter, and all other resources and opportunities that not only help people survive, but thrive.
What’s one of your favorite quotes from my book That’s What She Said: Wise Words from Influential Women?
“You May shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise.” Maya Angelou
Also another top contender:
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Audre Lorde
Where can people find you? How can they contact you?
I would love to stay connected and come to speak at events, campuses and cool spaces across the world. Check out my website: www.israspeaks.com. You can contact me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org, and stay in touch via social media platforms (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram): @israspeaks