Ruwa Romman remembers the disappointment she felt as an 8-year-old woman sitting at the back of a college bus watching classmates level to her home and erupt in vicious laughter.
“There’s the bomb lab,” they jeered in yet one more try to model her household as terrorists.
On Tuesday, the identical woman – now a 29-year-old neighborhood organizer – made historical past as the primary recognized Muslim woman elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, and the primary Palestinian American elected to any workplace within the state.
After 10 months of relentless campaigning, the Democrat mentioned she is raring to start representing the individuals of District 97, which incorporates Berkeley Lake, and elements of Duluth, Norcross, and Peachtree Corners in Gwinnett County.
As an immigrant, the granddaughter of Palestinian refugees, and a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, or Islamic headband, the highway to political workplace hasn’t been simple, particularly within the very Christian and conservative South.
“I could write chapters about what I have gone through,” Romman instructed CNN, itemizing the numerous methods she’s confronted bigotry or discrimination.
“All the times I am ‘randomly’ selected by TSA, teachers putting me in a position where I had to defend Islam and Muslims to classrooms being taught the wrong things about me and my identity… it colored my entire life.”
But these hardships solely fueled her ardour for civic engagement, particularly amongst marginalized communities, Romman mentioned.
“Who I am has really taught me to look for the most marginalized because they are the ones who don’t have resources or time to spend in the halls of political institutions to ask for the help they need,” she mentioned.
Romman started in 2015 working with the Georgia Muslim Voter Project to enhance voter turnout amongst native Muslim Americans. She additionally helped set up the state chapter for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group.
Soon after, Romman started working with the broader neighborhood. Her website boasts: “Ruwa has volunteered in every election cycle since 2014 to help flip Georgia blue.”
She mentioned her essential focus is “putting public service back into politics,” which she intends to do by serving to broaden entry to well being care, bridging the financial alternative hole, defending the correct to vote, and ensuring individuals have entry to lifesaving care like abortion.
“I think a lot of people overlook state legislators because they think they’re local and don’t have a lot of impact, not realizing that state legislatures have the most direct impact on them,” Romman mentioned. “Every law that made us mad or happy started in the state legislature somewhere.”
Romman mentioned she at all times wished to affect the political course of, however by no means thought she’d be a politician.
The determination to run for workplace got here after attending a Georgia Muslim Voter Project coaching session for ladies from traditionally marginalized communities, the place a journalist protecting the occasion requested if she wished to run for workplace.
“I told her no, I don’t think so, and she ended up writing a beautiful piece about Muslim women in Georgia, but she started it with ‘Ruwa Romman is contemplating a run for office,’ and I wasn’t,” Romman recounted. “But when it came out, the community saw it and the response was so overwhelmingly positive and everyone kept telling me to do it.”
Two weeks later, Romman and a gaggle of volunteers launched a marketing campaign.
She was surrounded by household, mates and neighborhood members who have been rooting for her success. Together, they knocked on 15,000 doorways, despatched 75,000 texts, and made 8,000 telephone calls.
Her Republican opponent John Chan didn’t struggle honest, she mentioned.
“My opponent had used anti-Muslim rhetoric against me, saying I had ties to terrorism, at one point flat-out supporting an ad that called me a terrorist plant,” she mentioned.
Flyers supporting Chan’s candidacy insinuated she is related to terrorist organizations.
Chan didn’t reply to CNN’s request for remark.
It was the identical sort of bullying Romman confronted as a schoolgirl, she mentioned. Only this time, she wasn’t alone. Thousands of individuals had her again.
“What was incredible is that people in my district sent his messaging to me and said ‘This is unacceptable. How can we help? How can we get involved? How can we support you?’ and that was such an incredible moment for me,” she mentioned.
It was additionally ironic, Romman added, as a result of her ardour for her neighborhood and social justice is rooted in her religion: “Justice is a central tenant of Islam,” she identified. “It inspires me to be good to others, care for my neighbors, and protect the marginalized.”
It’s additionally rooted in her household’s expertise as Palestinian refugees, who she mentioned have been banished from their homeland by Israel within the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
“My Palestinian identify has instilled in me a focus on justice and care for others,” Romman mentioned. “Everyone deserves to reside with dignity. I hope that Palestinians in every single place see this as proof that persistently displaying up and working arduous could be historical past making.
“I may not have much power on foreign policy, but I sincerely hope that I can at least remind people that Palestinians are not the nuisance, or the terrorists, or any other terrible aspersion that society has put on us,” she added. “We are real people with real dreams.”
Romman joins three different Muslim Americans elected to state and native workplace in Georgia this election cycle, in accordance to the Georgia Muslim Voter Project.
The different three candidates, all Democrats, have been Nabilah Islam, the primary recognized Muslim woman elected to the Georgia State Senate, Sheikh Rahman, elected to the Georgia State Senate, and Farooq Mughal, elected to the Georgia State House.
“We’ve had Muslim representation at the state level in Georgia, but these wins take representation for Georgia Muslims further than ever before because now we have more gender and ethnic representation for Muslims,” the group’s govt director Shafina Khabani instructed CNN. “Not only will we have a representation that looks like us and aligns with our values, but we will have an opportunity to advocate and influence policies that impact our communities directly.”
“Having diversity in political representation means better laws, more accepting leadership, and welcoming policies for all of Georgia,” she mentioned.
More than something, Romman hopes her election factors to a future freed from hate and bigotry.
“I think this proves that people have learned that Muslims are part of this community and that tide of Islamophobia is hopefully starting to recede,” Romman added.
Looking again at her childhood, Romman needs she may inform her youthful self issues would get higher with time, and that sooner or later she wouldn’t solely make Georgia historical past, however hopefully an actual distinction on the planet.