Ahmed Salim: Strengthening the Community From the Bottom, Up

Ahmed Salim shares his story in launching his career as a politician, who aspires to serve as a Senator at the Federal level. Among the issues most important to him are education and the betterment of struggling communities. In this narrative, he discusses the impact of his parents’ influence on his own personal politics, and the importance of ‘walking the walk’ when it comes to fighting inequality.

This story was produced through a community partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.

“My name is Ahmed Salim. I was actually born in Pakistan, I lived in Pakistan until I was two years old, with my mom, my two brothers and my little sister. My father had immigrated to America when I was one year old, and we eventually followed him on my second birthday; we ended up moving to the suburbs in Chicago. My parents instilled this big idea of education, and basically giving the opportunity for everyone to have education, in me. I remember, you know, going back on our family trips to Pakistan, I remember one year — I was probably in third or fourth grade — we ended up going to this orphanage and we were bringing m’tai. It was my mom, my sister, and I, and m’tai (if you don’t know) is basically just a Pakistani dessert, it’s really just pure sugar and color–it’s really unhealthy, but really tasty. We were giving m’tai to this orphanage, which was also a school and I had no idea what the idea was behind this school, and it wasn’t until a few years later that I found out that it was actually a school that my father and his brothers helped build with the money they had from their businesses. You know, it’s interesting because you always hear people say that they believe in something, and it was nice to see that my parents not only believed in something, but they talked the talk and they definitely walked the walk, and it was great because it definitely instilled in me a lot of the beliefs I have today.

I first started off in politics when I was nineteen I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work for a senatorial campaign; little did I know, one of the people on the campaign would end up being the future president of the United States. Unfortunately, I didn’t work for him at the time, but I did work for a very nice lady that was running against him, and four other people. I remember the first weekend, we took a long road trip to East St. Louis, and I got to meet some of the candidates because they were all going for this round-table, and I remember when I first met Former President Barack Obama as a candidate when he was just a state rep. I remember, you know, meeting him and a couple of other politicians and seeing the love and passion that they had for politics. You know, you could see that it wasn’t just something that they wanted to do, it was something that they wanted to help people out with and that’s kind of the reason that I got into politics at such a young age.

Growing up and seeing what my parents did, for not only us personally but –like I said, they talked the talk, they definitely walked the walk– that instilled it in a lot of us, and when we talk about education we don’t just talk about whether a kid has a book, or making sure a kid has resources. There’s a lot to education, especially stuff that people don’t realize, that affects kids from going to school. So, a big thing that happens to children (and I was able to learn a lot about this during my time in the congressman’s office) was “head start:” getting kids a meal. A lot of kids in our country, especially this district, go hungry. They don’t get a proper meal; they get one meal a day and typically the school provides it for them, you know, there’s a program that gives them these meals. We want to make sure that these programs continue–and not only that they continue: we’ve seen recent legislation talking about healthy diets, and taking away a lot of legislative rules behind making sure that diets are healthy. you know, we want to make sure we continue not only giving kids food, but giving them healthy food because, like I said, this is sometimes the only time they get a healthy meal.

Another thing that I actually wasn’t aware of until a year ago, when someone brought it to my attention, was clean clothes. Kids actually, statistically, don’t go to school because they don’t have clean clothes. They get embarrassed because they can’t afford to have their clothes laundered, so that leads them to ditch school, be truant, and not graduate. So there’s a lot of stuff, when you look at education as a whole. We really need to start focusing on that because it doesn’t benefit any community when we leave a single person behind, right? Statistically, a community is directly correlated with education and violence; so the more education we can provide to a community, the less violence we’re going to see in a community, and the more we’re going to see the people who graduate from those schools put back into their community, and come back to the community and help it grow.

A lot of people ask why I’m not running for a city, or state-level position, and to be completely honest, a lot of the stuff that I’m passionate about hits on the federal level. So we talk about education (putting federal resources back into programs), immigration, healthcare, student loan debt, livable wage–which is a big thing to me, making sure people have at least a $15 per hour minimum wage. So that’s the reason I chose this specific spot. You know, we hear a lot of people say ‘it’s just one person,’ but you know, one person, just like one vote, makes the difference, right? We have to start. This idea that we can’t start [anything] because it’s only one person will lead what’s going on in our country to continue. We’ve been talking about building a pathway to immigration for undocumented citizens for a decade now, but we haven’t moved forward. These are issues that are real. These issues affect everyday people and we need to start actually moving forward, we need to put pettiness aside and actually start helping the 98 percent of us, instead of just the two percent of us.”

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