Halah Ahmad is a Coro Fellow in Northern California who will be working with Akonadi Foundation through October 2018 as part of her fellowship program. Halah holds an MPP from the University of Cambridge and an honors degree in comparative religion and sociology from Harvard. Her experience has taken her from Milwaukee and Chicago to the West Bank, Albania, Greece, and Berlin.
What is the Coro Fellowship? The Coro Fellowship guides young leaders in developing the skills, networks, and knowledge to effect change in their communities. The fellowship aims to give the next generation of changemakers the tools they need to deepen their understanding of community issues and work across nonprofit, business, and government sectors.
What is the focus of your work as a Coro Fellow at Akonadi Foundation? I’m evaluating the impact of the Racial Justice Poster Project, which has been a program of the Foundation for the last 10 years. Each year Akonadi commissions artists in the Oakland community to design and create posters that promote racial justice. The Foundation then shares the poster with grantees, nonprofits, elected officials, local government agencies, and community members.
My learning goals at Akonadi extend beyond this project. My broader interest is on housing issues, and Akonadi focuses on inequities of economic systems and the impact on communities of color. One of my goals is to look at the relationship between real estate development, grassroots organizations and the communities they affect. I want to gain a better understanding of best practices for effective funding around these issues.
Why is this work important to you? My motivation is rooted in my experiences and my background. I’m a Palestinian-American, a Muslim-American, and a woman. All the experiences inherent to my identity have motivated me to take responsibility for making a difference. We all affect each other and we are interdependent.
A key moment for me came during a summer internship as an undergraduate at Harvard. I was working for the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development in Albania, and I was charged with conducting an ethnographic study of the Roma population in the capital city, Tirana. The Ministry wanted to understand why the Roma people were not accessing the affordable housing the government constructed. I spent a great deal of time talking with the people in these communities. I was not coming at them in a transactional way, as someone might just prior to an election. That helped me better understand both the people and the institutional barriers that kept them from accessing the available resources.
Through this experience, I came to understand that housing is the most fundamental need, how it’s at the core of many systemic injustice and social mobility issues. I am from Milwaukee, one of the most segregated cities in America. The housing issues I saw abroad have significant parallels in Milwaukee. The same socio-economic and systemic barriers and intergenerational patterns perpetuate inequities in both locations.
How would you most like to address these issues in your professional life?
Through my work as a Coro Fellow, I’m learning how to construct and work toward realizing my vision for our communities. I believe working at the local level is the first place to learn, be effective, and make change. I want to help create a generation of people who can change the system. Key policy changes are needed to counter the injustices that confine people in their circumstances. I’ve worked on campaigns and as a student organizer, and I believe advocacy is very important. I also believe there are other ways to be involved and create change. My next step will be to work on housing issues in New York City.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Like so many of the people at Akonadi, I’m a creative person and have an arts background. While I don’t have much free time lately, I’m learning from the team at Akonadi what it means to juggle a work life and a creative life. I have done pastel drawing and illustration, mural-painting, and a variety of crafts. I also have digital arts skills in photography, video, and graphic design, which helps me be a better communicator in my professional life. I also love musicals, jazzy soul singers, and good TV shows. Perhaps my favorite outlet of all, though, is cooking and catching up with family and friends over tea or coffee.
During her time with Akonadi Foundation, Halah will be evaluating the Racial Justice Poster Project. Please take a few moments to fill out this SURVEY of the poster project, and enter the drawing for your chance to win a fifty dollar gift card!