Aisha Shah is serving as the deputy outreach director with the Oklahoma Democratic Party, and enrolled in the doctorate program (DrPH) at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, College of Public Health. She also serves as a member on the advisory council for the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women.
My parents decided to apply for their immigration on one of our summer vacations in the early 80’s while visiting family in Oklahoma. Shortly after graduating from high school in Saudi Arabia, I was shipped off to pursue a college education at the University of Oklahoma (OU). I left behind a circle of friends to a town where I knew no one and a culture that was foreign to me. I completed my undergraduate in Microbiology from the University of Oklahoma in 1995 and went on to complete my Masters in Public Health (MPH) from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (OUHSC) in 2000. I am currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Health Administration and Policy at OU.
Oklahoma City 25 years ago was a small, closed metropolis with a little flare for culture. People were polite and friendly, yet there was a hesitation to go beyond and learn about something that was foreign to them. Nowadays there is a term for that: xenophobia. In the beginning, it was difficult to make friends and adjust, but over time, I met and fostered some lasting friendships, got married, and grew to like Oklahoma. In recent years, we have seen the growing bigotry rear its ugly face again that alienates Muslims to feel unsafe in their homes.
As far as I remember, I had the desire to help people and have an impact on improving lives. Public Health gave me just that opportunity. I worked for the State Health Department for almost five years, before quitting to be a full-time mom. However, I never relented my passion for returning someday and participating in the work force.
As my two boys grew older, I had the desire to return and take up my position in the community and pursue my goals. I had developed a love for policy during my training at school, and the capitol was a fascinating place where the change happened. I decided to dwell in my new acquired passion for politics and spent an entire session working as an intern with Oklahoma Democratic Senator Anastasia Pittman to learn about public policy and the legislative process. The experience exposed me to the ever-changing nature of the public office and the excitement and frustration that the job offers.
My passion for women’s issues has always been profound. So when the opportunity to participate and serve as an advisory council member of the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women was offered, I availed it. The organization works on formulating policies to improve the life of women in Oklahoma and have an impact on providing opportunities to succeed.
A group of concerned individuals came together to form the Democratic Muslim Caucus of Oklahoma, which aims to provide a voice and platform in bringing the Muslim community to the table. As a result, my new role serves as a Muslim Liaison created within the Oklahoma Democratic Party. This opportunity gave me the chance to utilize my skills and actively engage the Muslim community in local politics through political forums, volunteering and actively donating to democratic causes. The lack of Muslim participation in the past is largely due to political unawareness and fear tactics that further marginalize people from getting involved.
The task of organizing such a sustained effort is daunting and not without difficulty. We have a long way ahead, but the journey has just begun, and hope is what carries us forward. In the words of President Obama, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”