Interview with Community Leader Suehaila Amen

There are a handful of Arab Americans from Dearborn that are well known locally, nationally and internationally. The remarkable Suehaila Amen is one of them. Dearborn is a community where first- generation male immigrants dominate community organizations- this is noticeable at community events and meetings. Suehaila is one of a few women who, strength of character and hard work, have achieved a high profile in this community. The Forum and Link approached Suehaila for an interview. The following are excerpts from this interview.

 *Tell me about yourself. Who is Suehaila Amen?

Born and raised in Dearborn, Michigan to Mohsen Amen and Lila Alcodray, I inherited the activism gene from my parents who have served the community for over 30 years through various organizations.  The eldest of 4, I have two sisters and a brother.

I am currently employed as the Judicial Executive for the Honorable Mark W. Somers, Judge in the 19th District Court in Dearborn, and was previously employed as an educator in the Dearborn Public School System for 14 years. I served as a Training Coordinator for Wal-Mart Corporation, facilitating Cultural Sensitivity and Diversity Trainings and was the Community Affairs Director for the Forum and Link Journal for 8 years.  I’ve worked for nearly 18 years. Volunteering in the community working to establish, maintain and continue to enhance working relationships with key government agencies and community leaders.  I take great pleasure in doing what I can to support my community and serve them in order to further devotion to serving the community is unrelenting.  I am affiliated with various Arab-American, Islamic and non-Arab associations on local, regional and national levels and works to coordinate and assist in workshops, meetings, and forums with various agencies, ranging from understanding the media, enlightening non-Muslims/Non-Arabs on the Muslim faith and Arab culture, to running for political office.  I have published articles on subjects pertaining to community organizing, coalition building and addressing issues facing Arab and Muslim Americans in various national Middle Eastern publications. 

* You work at the 19th district court. Tell me about your work. What kind of cases do you see? Do you see a lot of cases involving Arab Americans? 

I am the Judicial Executive Clerk for the Honorable Judge Mark W. Somers at the 19th district court in Dearborn.  We see a variety of cases from civil infractions, traffic violations and civil suits to misdemeanors and state felonies.  It is unfortunate, though we do see many cases involving Arab Americans.  These cases range from drug and drinking charges to civil matters and much more serious crimes such as murder, domestic violence and criminal sexual conduct.  These are issues all communities face and within our own we tend to turn a blind eye and do not wish to admit our flaws though there are some serious concerns and we need begin addressing them in order to help those in need and make Dearborn safer.

*You are very active in the community, what influenced your community involvement?  

My community involvement was influenced greatly by my parents, Mohsen and Lila Amen.  They were instrumental in my civic and community engagement as they were activists as well and began getting me involved through events at ACCESS (where mom was employed at the time) and the Islamic Institute of Knowledge (where dad served as a founding board member) by age 13.  Since then I have been extremely involved in various aspects of the community seeking to create viable and credible programs which would serve the needs of our community and allow for Arab Americans to acculturate and advance in the nation.

*TLC’s American Muslims experience was a success that was not spared the criticism from some conservative elements in the Muslim community. How do you feel about the program and your involvement with it?

Being a part of history has added to the list of things I am proud to have accomplished in my life.  I was honored to have been a part of this groundbreaking series that highlighted the lives of American Muslims living in Dearborn.  There are many who are quick to criticize though those of us who have worked tirelessly to advance Arab and Muslim causes and address key issues affecting our community know the impact “All American Muslim” would have on society as a whole.  The show humanized the face of Muslims and Arabs and whether people wish to believe it or not, we are a community who has faced great obstacles in a post 9-11 era and this show made a significant improvement in how we are viewed by the general public as it followed our daily lives as we addressed issues that all Americans could relate to; weddings, births, careers, single life, infertility, football, law enforcement and business ventures.  I am proud to say I was a part of “All American Muslim” and would do it again in a heartbeat.  I feel that TLC did their best to show the reality of our families and took a risk in creating a controversial show that would engage the nation in dialogue; positively and negatively.

*You traveled recently with the State department to Brazil? Tell me about this trip.

I was chosen to serve as an Ambassador for the Muslim community and travel with the Department of State to Sao Paulo and Foz de Iguacu, Brazil.  The program “Generation Change” takes young and influential Muslim leaders from communities across the nation to global Muslim communities to create chapters for the program which seeks to assist young change-makers across the world in cultivating their leadership skills and engaging them in meaningful projects which will help their own communities flourish and succeed in mainstream society.  The program was established in 2010 by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the initiative is lead by the Office of the Special Representative to Muslim Communities, Farah Pandith.  This was an honor and I was privileged to have been a part of helping others build stronger communities and be the leaders of the future who will make change happen across the world.  During the trip we met influential community leaders in the Muslim and interfaith community and engaged young leaders in meaningful conversations about the needs of their communities and how they could help make the change they feel is needed happen.

*What do you see the challenges facing Arab Americans and Arab American Muslim women in particular?

There are many challenges that face Arab and Muslim American women in society.  Women need to play a more integral role in the greater community and serve it in various capacities which allows for their children and families to grow.  Issues pertaining to identity, women’s roles and rights and hijab are important conversations that need to be had, especially within our community in Metro Detroit.

*Few Arab American women are involved with community organizations. Why do you think this is the case?

I believe that few women are involved in our community because we live in a male dominated society which has made it difficult for the women who want to be involved to actually have their voice heard.  We have many influential and strong women who have accomplished a great deal, though they are overshadowed by those who seek to further their own personal agendas and do not feel the need to create a place for women at the leadership table.  It has pained me to see that many women do not wish to be involved in certain organizations and associations.  Many have said they feel their voice is not heard nor will they be given a fair opportunity to work, receive credit for their ideas or be successful when others, whether intentionally or unintentionally, may suppress them.  The women who have been successful and furthered their business and professional careers are role models for all young women in our community and we need to recognize their efforts more and have their suggestions heard and strategies implemented as many have great ideas and are not given the opportunity to be engaged.  I say this because I know how difficult it is to be in a leadership role in the community as it took me many years before my voice was heard and my volunteerism acknowledged as there were many who viewed me as a child and brushed me aside when my heart was in the right place and I was doing the work without a personal agenda or seeking any type of gain.

*What advice do you give to other young women who want to get involved?

Do not allow anyone to repress your voice or tell you that your time has not yet come.  I remained determined and continued to work diligently, doing what I felt was right for my community, even if it was in opposition of the entrenched leadership.  Stand for what you believe in and remain strong in your convictions.  Do not allow anyone’s perspectives or negativity to sway you or intimidate you.  If you know you are doing something for the greater good of the community, then keep doing it and do it with passion and be committed.  Don’t wait for a pat on the back, or a thank you…it may never come…do what you feel is best and be proud of your accomplishments as the only source of reward you truly need will be that from our creator who will know your intentions and see all that you do.

* Any other thoughts you wish to share with our readers?

We live in a beautifully diverse community with many extraordinary and dynamic young minds who want to make change happen.  It is vital that the younger generation begin taking the lead.  It is time for the youth to step up to the plate and bring fresh and new ideas and challenges to the table.  In order to make that change happen we need to pass on the torch to these young visionaries who will continue paving the way for our community to flourish.


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