D.E.E.P Impact held its 10th virtual event for the 2020-21 school year March 23. Hosted by Rebeca Barge, this event was part of its Cultural Series Speaker events. Isra Chaker was the keynote speaker for the event. Chaker is a civil rights activist, campaigns and advocacy expert and public speaker.
According to her website Irsa Speaks,“She uses her platform to educate people on social justice and political challenges facing humanity, to advocate for underrepresented populations and to put a spotlight on leaders and organizations doing positive social change work.”
Chaker is also the senior campaign lead for Oxfam American, an ambassador for One Young World and a public advocate for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and Islamic Relief USA.
Chaker told her story of rising from elementary school through high school and college to where she is today. She discussed the hardships she faced being a Syrian-American Muslim post 9/11.
“I was called a terrorist on a daily basis,” Chaker said. “Awful notes with derogatory statements were left in my locker, and students would try and rip off my hijab when I was walking down the hallway.”
Experiencing bullying every day in high school, Chaker said, she wanted to make a change and help people who were facing the same difficulties in her school. She went to her guidance counselor and principal to get assistance for her idea.
“ The Diversity Panel was for any student that was different in any way and any identity and was targeted and made to feel less than human for one or more of their identities to come into this space and share their stories, to own their narrative and to have their voice heard,” Chaker said.
After high school, Chaker attended and graduated from Colorado Boulder University where she ran for president of student government. Although she didn’t win the first time she ran, she won the following year with the highest number of votes for a student election in the history of the university.
Chaker majored in architecture in college but said she decided that wasn’t the path she wanted to take. She coined the term “social architect” and has based her career off this term.
“Social architect, to me, was someone who connected people to causes to create positive change,” Chaker said.
Chaker has since moved to D.C. and worked for numerous campaigns throughout her career as an activist, her current job being with Oxfam, a global charitable organization working to end poverty.
“My life professionally and personally has remained committed throughout the past four years, throughout the challenges and throughout the feared anxiety to fighting discriminatory policies and shutting down stereotypes and misconceptions,” Chaker said.
One of her most famous projects was produced in 2017, when she brought four refugees to President Trump’s childhood home in New York to share their experiences of “The American Dream.”
“They shared their harrowing journeys of losing their homes and family members in search of safety on our shores,” Chaker said. “They then showed how grateful they were for everything they were able to achieve in this country and rebuild a new future.”
Chaker explained how the refugees were only allowed a certain amount of items to bring with them when they came to the United States, and she had them bring some of these items to the house.
“I placed the items around the house in a way that you would find them in anybody’s home,” Chaker said. “I put a card next to the item that said the name of the refugee and the story that it had behind them.”
Chaker said the video went viral and reached millions of people around the world unexpectedly.
The special events coordinator for the Muslim Student Association, sophomore CIS major Ammara Sheikh, asked Chaker how she stays resilient throughout all of the struggles she’s faced in her life. Chaker said it comes down to people.
“It is one of the most challenging things as a human being to navigate,” Chaker said. “But what helps me keep my resilience and my hope is when I see the response of people.”
Chaker said the impression she sees her work making is what keeps her going.
“When I see the impact of the work that I am doing,” Chaker said. “When I see wins it reinstills this power in me that I know we are making a difference.”
Freshman Business Management and Media Arts and Design major Alexandra Davis asked her own question in the chatbox about how to become an advocate, saying “I feel like there’s so much information out there I don’t know where to start on how to make a real difference.”
Chaker answered the question by saying that attending the event showed that Davis was already an advocate. She discussed other ways on how to be an advocate for the causes that Davis is most passionate about.
“Connect with local organizations around you that are supporting that cause,” Chaker said. “Start talking about it with friends and see if you guys can come up with a creative idea to help the cause.”
Contact Mackenzie Munn at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU