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Meet Trailblazer Bushra Amiwala

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bushra Amiwala.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was born and raised in the Rogers Park – and anyone who has ever lived there knows how it is a segregated neighborhood, which can be masked as “diversity.” At the age of nine, my family and I moved to Skokie, where the disparity between the two school systems I was used to seeing became a guiding principle for me. I became immersed in service work in every form it came in – educational equality, addressing food insecurity, working towards alleviating poverty and homelessness, immigration reform, equity as a whole – yet it was never enough. Someone asked me to run for office, after all, being able to implement change at the political level is the most tangible way to ensure long-term change is enacted.

This past election cycle, I ran for the Cook County Board of Commissioners, as the first Muslim woman and youngest person to do so. My campaign became much more than just getting me elected – it became a movement where I was able to speak to every high school in my district, including others in neighboring counties – totaling to 45 while campaigning. I registered thousands of people from immigrant backgrounds to vote and educated hundreds of South Asians about the importance of voting in a primary election, that didn’t have a presidential candidate. Although I came in second, in a three-person race in March, defeated by a 16-year incumbent, registering people to vote, speaking at schools and mobilizing those who have yet to be engaged in the political process is something I am still doing.

I have recently announced my candidacy for D73.5 School Board, which is the school district I attended once I moved to Skokie, and am very excited to champion important issues centered around race and equity.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
With ups, there are always downs. I learned you really truly can appreciate the “good,” after going through difficult times. I wasn’t able to build my credibility overnight. The media knew me as the “Muslim Teen Running for Office” – and I despised that, because “teen” sounded young, naive and inexperienced. Yet, I was a teen, recently turned 19 when I first announced. I really had to put myself out there while running for office, and when the whole world doubts you, it is hard to have faith in yourself. A piece of advice that was given to me when I first decided to run was: “you will have some of the best, and some of the worst, days of your life while running for office – and most of the time, they will be on the same day.” And boy was that true.

Some advice I’d give to young women is to take pride in themselves because there will be so many people out there ready to doubt them. Apart from that, as young women, most of the things we say will be attributed to either our gender or age, which can be really frustrating.

Please tell us about your work – what should we know?
Every day while campaigning, I woke up to messages from women – across the globe, encouraging me to keep going. People kept saying how my campaign inspired them to eventually run for office themselves. Although I am not currently running for anything, I am still known as the girl who ran for office – and did really well. I ran my campaign from the bottom up, the way one would start a business and did everything. I was my own campaign manager and my own treasurer. I collected petition signatures for myself, knocked on doors, made phone calls, and drove around my volunteers, as I was involved in every aspect of my campaign. I didn’t want anyone on my campaign to do something I wasn’t as well, something that truly set me apart from other candidates.

I was fortunate enough to have my hard work go noticed as I garnered national media attention by being on the cover of TIME Magazine, and was featured in almost every magazine I read as a child including: Teen Vogue, Seventeen Magazine, Glamour Magazine and Scholastic Magazine (my personal favorite, as I used to read this in school. My mom – a teacher currently, was able to witness the joy in her students’ faces when she told them that the girl they are reading about is her daughter.)

I wasn’t just known as the girl running, but I was the girl who encouraged others and lifted those who had been outcasted in the political process with me. Young people, people from a minority background, and people from immigrant families – I was told that these people “do not matter,” yet I ran an entire campaign for a year centered around them – and prevailed.

We’re interested to hear your thoughts on female leadership – in particular, what do you feel are the biggest barriers or obstacles?
As women of color, there are very few opportunities available to us. Society and the media have almost pinned us one another by only allowing one available space for either a black woman or a Muslim woman. As a result, instead of being each other’s greatest allies, there is this notion that we are set up to be against each other for the same opportunities. Overcoming that barrier is really difficult.

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