Each year, we hear this sentiment from dozens of American Muslim young leaders from universities around the country who gather in Washington, DC for our Policy Young Leaders Summit and in Los Angeles for our Hollywood Young Leaders Summit — and leave changed.
Next week, our ninth cohort of undergrad and grad students from around the country will kick off and touch a new group of lives. Our goal has always been to develop new leaders from our community to enter the nerve centers that define public opinion and policy. And in the words of Congressman Andre Carson (D-IN07), “MPAC is a leadership factory, or like a cocoon that turns caterpillars into butterflies.”
How? By being exposed to the daily workings of the nation’s capital, giving them the chance to speak with diverse leaders in the policymaking arena, empowering them with practical skills in advocacy and engagement, and making lasting friends and support networks.
We launched the Policy Summit in 2007, when Muslims were being defined in the public eye by worldwide Muslim protests of the Danish Muhammad cartoon and a stream of foiled domestic terror plots. The Summits are an important step in bridging the gap between policymakers and their American Muslim constituents. Each year, we are blown away by how passionate, smart and motivated our young people are and they inspire us to continue with our work building a better future. And we have heard from many of our contacts that their meetings leave a major impression, as one of the only delegations of American Muslims they meet with.
From the White House to the Brookings Institution to members of Congress, the delegates have told their stories to different policymakers and opinion-shapers in their own words. When we launched the program in 2007, we were thrilled to be able to meet with division heads from federal agencies, think tank researchers and Congressional staffers. After all, it was a time when American Muslim youth were being talked about, but were not being talked to, inside the capital.
Our young leaders have made their voices noticed each year, and they have taken what they learned and applied it to their own efforts to amplify their voices and others mainstream American Muslim voices. In 2011, our delegates decided to draft and submit a “proclamation” to President Obama, which was presented to senior policymakers at the White House.
Many of our alumni have gone on to internships and careers in federal agencies, Congressional offices, the Foreign Service, think tanks, the U.N., and advocacy groups. Additionally, many go on to participate actively in local issues both within and beyond the Muslim community.
Among our exceptional alumni are: Yusuf Abdulqadir (UN consultant on climate issues), Laila Alawa (Coming of Faith Founder), Hazami Barmada (UN Youth Program), Hady Elneil (Foreign Service), Sahar Jahani (YouTube Space), Wardah Khalid, and Mohammed Kemal (USAID).
Nine years later, we see real change in the presence of American Muslims serving in public life, and how our community engages with the political process and issues they care about. While the challenges our community face seem to grow larger with each passing day, the possibilities for positive advancement also grow each day with the addition of one more American Muslim who commits to being the change they wish to see in the world.
Follow the 2015 Policy Summit on our Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram and you’ll get a chance to witness a new group of change-makers emerge starting next week.