the apa women leader spotlights: sham-e-ali nayeem

15 Days. 15 APA Women. 15th Anniversary. To celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, we're partnering up with NAPAWF and Hyphen to spotlight 15 Women Warriors for 15 days, sponsored by 15 hosts. Meet today's spotlight:

Sham-e-Ali Nayeem
Nominated by Jane Kim.

Sham-e-Ali was born in Hyderabad, India and raised in both the UK and the US. A previous recipient of the Echoing Green Fellowship, Sham-e-Ali is a poet and a public interest lawyer. In 1997, she initiated a welfare rights program for survivors of family and intimate partner violence to challenge the devastating impact of "welfare reform" in NYC. The program provided free walk-in legal clinics at soup kitchens, food pantries, and domestic violence shelters throughout the city. Sham-e-Ali's poetry has appeared in publications such as,SALT Journal, SAMAR, Roots & Culture Magazine, and Mizna,and can be found in anthologies such as, Shattering the Stereotypes: Muslim Women Speak Out (Olive Branch Press, 2005), Living Islam Out Loud: American Muslim Women Speak(Beacon Press, 2005) and Shout Out: Women of Color Respond to Violence (Seal Press, 2008). Sham-e-Ali has performed her poetry internationally at various events including the Oxford Literary Festival and the "Sister Fire Cultural Arts Tour of Radical Women of Color Artists and Activists". She is a mother to one 8-year-old boy who is her inspiration.

Describe your name.
My name means "evening/twilight-of-Ali" in Urdu. Sham means evening. I like to be called Sham or Sham-e-Ali.

How do you identify?
I am a single Desi mom to a beautiful 9-year-old boy. Shia Muslim. Poet. Friend.

Your passion issues?
Many injustices are interconnected and I am committed to ending them in all their forms. This starts from the personal for me and is also a part of the way I parent. At the root of this is a commitment to social justice, peace and radical love that is grounded in my understanding of Islam. Here in Philadelphia, I am inspired by the folks at the One Love Movement, Media Mobilizing Project, Leeway Foundation and Asian Americans United. I am inspired by women of color and trans folks of color the world over that create art for liberation and justice. Their courage, vision, humility, power and fearlessness amaze me.

Best advice someone has ever given you?
Don't forget to breathe and to laugh.

Who's your hero?
My late father. He was an incredibly compassionate, intelligent, patient, courageous and beautiful person. His humility, commitment to justice, and integrity remain a source of inspiration to me. He worked tirelessly for others his entire life. He taught me about poetry, being kind, fighting for justice and that every life is precious. He taught me the importance of honoring the humanity of everyone I meet. Arundhati Roy is another hero to me.

Biggest lesson you've learned as an APA Woman?
Our community is absolutely beautiful. We are resilient and powerful.

What advice would you give to other Asian Pacific American women?
I am not one to be giving advice, but to answer this question I would say, Love yourself like your whole life depends on it. Usually it does.

Why support NAPAWF?
I agreed to do this mainly because I feel that NAPAWF should be supported! NAPAWF is building a movement to advance social justice and human rights for API women and girls. Even if you don't donate in my name pick one of these 15 amazing folks on this list and make a donation in their name! (thank you).

Favorite guilty pleasure?
NO GUILT. That said, donuts and cheeseburgers.

Jane says:
Sham-E-Ali is inspiring, kind and passionate-- all attributes of a leader in our community. She is the Program Director of Leeway Foundation in Philadelphia funding women and transgender artists who create art for social change, a poet/author, and public interest attorney. The moment I met Sham-E, I knew I was connecting to a fierce but generous spirit-- she is a dedicated activist moved by love of her community, a visionary community leader and a mother. I am proud to recognize the work and leadership of another APA sister in our country.

About Jane:
Jane Kim is a San Francisco Board of Supervisor member representing the people of District 6 which includes the Tenderloin, South of Market, Treasure Island and North Mission! She’s also a former Community Organizer, bass player, black belt (Tae Kwon Do), co-founder of Locus Arts, a venue which supported emerging API artists, daughter and older sister loved and raised by a fierce Korean mother and father, and proud Asian American. In her grassroots campaign for the Board of Education, Jane was the highest citywide vote-getter, becoming the first Korean-American elected official in San Francisco.

Donate in honor of Sham-e-Ali and Jane:
Support Shae-e-Ali and Jane by giving to NAPAWF in their honor.

To see the rest of the 15 APA Women Leader Spotlights, go here.

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