When the opportunity to lobby for refugees in Washington D.C. arose, Habiba Rashid jumped at the chance. MCC’s former Executive Director, Peg Chemberlin, was collaborating with Oxfam on a World Refugee Day advocacy day, and turned to MCC Refugee Services to see if any former refugees on our staff would be willing to travel to D.C. and share their story on the Hill. Habiba immediately recognized this as a life-changing opportunity and made room in her schedule as a full-time employee and mother of 6 to make the trip.
Habiba credits Oxfam with excellent organization for this event that included former refugees from across the country. They organized participants’ travel and hosted an event the evening before the lobby day to provide training on what to expect during their meetings with Representatives and Senators, Congressional etiquette, and details about Oxfam’s specific advocacy goals. The following day, Habiba had in-person meetings with Senator Amy Klobuchar, Representative Ilhan Omar, and two Senators from Maine– Susan Collins and Angus King. Habiba remarked on what an honor it was to spend time with these respected decision-makers and how generous they were with their time and interest in her story, and their strong support for refugee resettlement. Not one to be intimidated on Capitol Hill, Habiba asked these representatives to be vocal with their support of refugee resettlement, even when it goes against party lines.
Meeting the other refugee advocates was also a powerful portion of the advocacy event. Habiba made new friends and shared how powerful it was to hear the stories of other former refugees. “It was a self-reflective moment for me,” she shared, hearing about the difficult journeys that others had faced.
Sensing her passion for this advocacy experience, I asked Habiba if she had any political aspirations herself, and she responded with an enthusiastic “Yes! My idols are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.” Habiba has dreams of returning to school to study international law when her children are older, and maybe running for office herself one day. She shared how empowered she feels as a woman, and how she hopes to advocate for the rights and needs of all Americans in an environment where change can stall because of staunchly held party lines.
Habiba knows she has a long and challenging road ahead, but she’s not about to give up. She’s keenly aware of her visibility as a black, Muslim woman doing public work in the community in her current role with Mankato Refugee Services. She hopes to continue serving her community and supporting other young women as they take on roles of influence within the community. When I asked if she ever felt afraid, or tempted to get out of the spotlight, she said: “Of course. But even if I walk around looking over my shoulder, that’s not going to stop me from doing the work that needs to be done.”