The 51st Annual Legislative Conference
By Syed M. Hassan
Staff from Islamic Relief USA attended the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 51st Annual Legislative Conference at the Washington Convention Center in D.C. between September 28-30.
IRUSA had a booth set up at the marquee event, which featured top lawmakers, media personalities, nonprofit leaders, and faith leaders, among others.
IRUSA’s ties to the Black community stretches back to its founding nearly three decades ago, and has only increased during that time. Many of the community-based organizations that received support during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic are entities run by members of the Black community. The pandemic has been known to have a disproportionate impact on minority communities.
At the event, IRUSA staff provided information to the various people who stopped by at the booth. It also was an opportunity to showcase the IRUSA Blue Book, which features a list of partners we have worked with on an array of domestic projects.
“It is a great opportunity to meet with people, to advocate, to raise awareness, and influence policy,” said Jihad Saleh Williams, senior advisor for Advocacy & Government Affairs at IRUSA. “It is vital to engage. Our work has largely been through partners in the African-American community.”
A lot of the locations where the Muslim Black community is embedded are in places like Chicago, New Jersey, Los Angeles, and Michigan, all places where IRUSA has a strong presence.
Saleh-Williams said IRUSA and the CBC have long had a “reciprocal” relationship. “Islamic Relief wants to be a primary door to policymakers when they want to engage with the Muslim-American community,” he said. “We want to be part of the discussion.” Among the issues that IRUSA and policymakers can discuss focus around social and economic justice, poverty, hunger, homelessness, health-care access, and more recently, helping refugees, Saleh-Williams said.
Kesha Abdul-Mateen, Regional US Program Coordinator, was one of the many staff members who participated at the conference. She looked at the CBC conference as a valuable networking event that can only enhance IRUSA’s familiarity with top officials. “Any opportunity to highlight our work with those who don’t have IRUSA on their domestic radar is good.”
Abdul-Mateen also hopes her participation helped enlighten or broaden people’s perceptions of what they think of when they hear IRUSA, and that it has a much broader reach than one may assume. “My attendance was to connect with people that look like me, an African American. When people think of IRUSA, they don’t think of African-American Muslims, or that the majority of our beneficiaries [in the US] are in fact non-Muslim. We were also engaging fraternities and sororities about volunteer opportunities and engagement.”
Stephanie Thomas, IRUSA’s Talent Acquisition and Engagement Specialist, said attending the event was worthwhile. “I had hoped to gain a better understanding of what the Congressional Black Caucus does and perhaps network with future potential employees,” she said. “I was able to speak with a group of high school seniors and shared our information about volunteer opportunities, so in a sense, I did accomplish my goal.”
Fortunately, Saleh-Williams said a steady stream of people stopped by at the IRUSA booth, despite the lower attendance overall at the event when compared to prior years. Oftentimes, people were surprised that IRUSA helps people of all walks of life and all faiths. “I explain to them that there’s no requirement that you have Muslims, or that you work with Muslims,” Saleh-Williams said. “This really helps them. We’re here to help people in need. That really inspires them.”
Ultimately, many of the passersby came away with an impression of IRUSA as an organization with plenty of heft. “We’re not a rinky-dink, ragtag organization,” he said. “We’re a medium-sized NGO with significant funds and we need to get that out. And we want to get it out to diverse partners. We have a lot of room to grow.”
To learn more about Islamic Relief USA’s advocacy work, please visit irusa.org/advocacy.