Founding Arabs Against Oppression: An Interview with Walae Hayek
December 7, 2020
Anna Del Castillo (she/her/hers) is a Mississippian, Peruvian-Bolivian American, and faith-rooted activist for justice. She is pursuing a Master of Divinity as a Dean’s Fellow at Harvard Divinity School where she studies at the intersection of public policy, racial justice, and healing. She is also an Interfaith America Racial Equity Fellow.
American Civic Life
How do we address cultural racism? Walae Hayek, a 24 year old Syrian American set out to answer this question by founding Arabs Against Oppression, a new nonprofit organization that addresses issues of oppression within the Arab community. Walae is a first generation Syrian American, born and raised in Boston, MA. She is an MPH candidate in Community Assessment, Program Development, Implementation and Evaluation at Boston University School of Public Health. Walae is also a practicing Emergency Medical Technician. Her clinical experience in healthcare propelled her passion for health equity and motivated her pursuit of a career in clinical public health. Walae believes in the power of community to cultivate change and advocate for social equity. This belief motivated her to take action and create Arabs Against Oppression (AAO).
Walae and her partner, Essmaa Litim cofounded AAO with the mission of building a multicultural community and empowering individuals to advocate for social equity through educational seminars, workshops, and resources such as a shared glossary of Arabic terms that address systemic racism in American culture. On creating the glossary, Walae says “A lot of my Arab friends, we realized that there’s no language to discuss topics of racism. I was inspired by critical race theorists like Angela Yvonne Davis and Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw who gave me the vocabulary to talk about these concepts. As I reflected on my experiences, being from Syria and being Arab, I realized that we have a lot of these problems in our community, and we don’t talk about them. I always had this urge to do something, but I didn’t know what.”
In a Zoom interview, I sat down with Walae to discuss how she turned her passion into action, the inspiration behind Arabs Against Oppression, and the vision she has for the future of her advocacy work.