Dear RBAC family,
This letter is for RBAC staff, board, volunteers, Rainier Beach and South Seattle residents, business owners, and communities.
It is hard to believe that a year has passed since I first came to RBAC. I don’t know where to start with this letter. Maybe I can start with saying how much love I have for this place and that I have found a home. As I prepare for my journey into the next chapter of my life, I want to take this time to reflect on this past year.
I can’t believe God gave me this opportunity. From Yemen, to Egypt, to Turkey and then straight into Rainier Beach, my spiritual journey was further nurtured during my time at RBAC. I intended to be the best of service to everyone and I hope that I was able to do that. RBAC has taught me a lot about what restoration looks like through all social areas. It has taught that a workplace in the Western World that focuses on the holistic care of the human experience, does exist.
I think a good place for me to start is towards the end of my time with RBAC. I am choosing to begin with the facilitation of the Level Up Professional Development program that RBAC leadership allowed me to implement. The Level Up Professional Development program, a weekly series, was intended to provide a unique dynamic to brush on the expectations of the western world workplace but emphasize cultural values and assets as the driver.
When I designed this series, I thought about what I wish I had for myself as a Muslim mixed-ethnicity American woman living in Seattle, now with a fast paced tech landscape. Even before this series, I reflected on how I was placed to be at RBAC where so many of the young workers are young Muslim girls, and that having a space to build their sisterhood with each other and their elder sisters was important, especially during this time before they go their own ways. When I thought about these young sisters, I thought about how unique our world view and lifestyle is…most of us want to wear the hijab, speak another language at home, and grow up with other peers outside of school at Islamic School every weekend and sometimes on weekdays. Many of us knew how to speak Arabic, fasted during Ramadan, prayed five times a day, some of us are even scared to be around dogs (there’s a reason!), and we wanted to eat good food, but…too bad it’s not halal. As time went on, I was able to connect with the sisters on a deeper level through our spiritual language and all of the above.
How is it that South Seattle and Rainier Beach is so diverse yet most of the surrounding areas had no idea what our lives were like because we weren’t a part of the dominant culture? Could it really be that many of us just don’t have the space to speak on who we really are in the “Professional World”. Yes, from what I observed that many of us don’t feel like we can speak about our world-view in these spaces. And that goes for so many young people.
I thought hard about how I can take the values of Islam and translate it into their “professional world” for the young sisters (Both non-muslims and muslims) and to practice it at their RBAC. However, to get there, a realization has to occur and being able to connect the dots might come later in their lives but the tithing of the soil has to happen soon enough.
I thought about what realizations happened in my life to bring my Islamic world-view to seep into the world outside of myself. The question I had was, “How can we best show young Muslim people that the world outside of the Islamic world-view is actually a crossover with everything in their lives in America? If anything, it helps them navigate the “first world problems” for a 360 degrees, mind, body, and soul way of being. How can we show them that what they learn at Islamic school or at home can be used at their workplace or school. That lines X and Y (referring to a graph now) might not seem like it’s intercepting, but if they saw the forest instead of just the trees, they could see that X and Y actually NEEDS to intercept. That their values were to guide them day-to-day outside of home, their community, and Islamic school. And maybe…they were already doing that, but we perceive it to show up as…something else. So then how do we help them to discuss how they show up so that the rest of the world is culturally aware. I remember in my early 20’s when I first started praying 5 times a day, taking smaller breaks at work than usual. And if many of you don’t know, the prayers come in at appointed times, depending on where the sun is and where we are in the season. My supervisor said, “You’re taking too many breaks” or “You should have done it at home.” But, I did not have the words to explain this knowledge to him. I was given closet spaces and no more than that. And now, finding a place like RBAC where you don’t have to explain yourself…it relieves so much anxiety, fear, and stress.
I began the process of the design of the Level Up program by thinking about my experience accordingly. I asked myself this, “What are things I wish I could have done and learned, if I had worked at a place like RBAC?” And then, I began the design process, starting with Bismillah (in the name of God) and then it came to me. We called the program, “Level Up: Discovering Our Inner World to Transform Our Outer World”.
The first session began the weekly series with discovering the innerworld, titled “The Star Within”. The goal was to understand ourselves, our weaknesses, strengths, and visions. The second session, “Our Orbit”, we dived deeper into our intentions and how intentions show up in our workplace, our community, and neighborhood. The third session, “Connecting the Stars”, we decided to go to a park and spend time together and connect with each other to cultivate sisterhood (they were the stars of course 🙂) and see that not far from our inner-city home, there is a green space to connect with each other and the earth. For the fourth session, we had a guest speaker, Halah, a professional Sudanese Muslim woman, with the intention for the young sisters to see a woman who looked like them. She shared about herself, Islamic Psychology, and concepts of self-awareness, and Q&A with the young sisters. The last session, “Light Years Ahead” we discussed what planning and goal setting looks like with reference to our values from session 1, reflected on the past few weeks. We closed up the session by hearing wise words from our RBAC elder, Judy Jones, on what it means to be confident. As you may have noted, the theme of this professional development series focused on the cosmors and constellations within ourselves, the environment around us, the people that we’re connected to, and our future. Constellation mapping is often a RBAC reference when we discuss the tables we sit at (ask Mr. Davis about it). Not only was I able to use this concept as a reference, and Mr. Davis shared with me his Rites of Passage framework from years ago to refer to as our values. These were values that were significant to the Islamic-worldview, (and definitely for other abrahamic and non-abrahamic traditions)
The values are:
- Mutual Aid
- Natural Goodness
- Unconditional Love
- Respect for Elders
The last session occurred during my last working day at RBAC and there isn’t a better way for me to wrap up my time with RBAC in this way. My transition from RBAC is happening because of a personal realization that it is imperative for me to learn my tradition and heritage within the American cultural context, specifically the inner city. I hope to come back and support young Muslim women in their worldview. Islam is a methodology to life and many of us see it through this worldview. If we don’t have more Muslim people present to support our young Muslim people in their language, it may hurt generations to come.
Imagine a world where young Muslim women haven’t been told about their menstruation and womanhood through their worldview, a world where they eat halal but don’t know why, they have anxiety but don’t have the tools relevant to them to navigate it, and they’ve lost their knowledge on great predecessors and ancestors who paved the path for us to be Muslims in America, a world where the lands didn’t teach that Islam was indigenous to America’s when our African American ancestors were brought to these lands as slaves and had only their faiths. This is where we are in the US, where much of our knowledge has been erased, and isn’t being taught or translated into our lives. And more than ever, I feel that I need to learn more so we can revive what was lost (the sunnah)
RBAC is a beautiful space that has been taking care of young Muslims and non-Muslims every day, creating space for them to be driven by their cultures and values to serve in the neighborhood. RBAC did that for me and gifted me with the opportunity to mentor and implement the knowledge I had with hopes that I made a difference for these young sisters.
And so, in this journey, I hoped that I gave back as much as I could, even though I could never pay it back to RBAC. Thank you RBAC, Rainier Beach, and South Seattle. I pray I come back with more experience and knowledge to serve better. Ubuntu (I Am Because You Are).