PHILADELPHIA – Salima Suswell has made history in Pennsylvania, becoming the first Muslim member to serve in the state’s Commission for Women.
“I’m grateful. I feel like it’s a great time to have a Muslim woman, particularly an African-American Muslim woman, in a leadership role that affects change for women and girls in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Suswell, the CEO of Evolve Solutions, The Philadelphia Tribune reported Wednesday.
“I think that through my role with the [commission], people will take notice — ‘Wow, here it is a young African-American woman who is Muslim, who wears hijab, that is getting things done.’ Because of that, I find myself sort of pushing myself to do more.
“I feel like it’s a responsibility for myself to be present, to be at the table when decisions are being made that affect my community,” she added.
Appointed last October 18, Suswell said she realized immediately that she was the first Muslim out of about 30 members.
She promised to offer help to all people regardless of their faith.
“Muslims are women and girls. We have the same needs as all women and girls, so definitely I maintain a certain perspective based on the unique needs of the Muslim community. However, I’m here at service to the commonwealth for all women and girls,” she said.
Suswell also has interest in serving the African-American girls and young women and girls that are a product of the foster care system, noting that many of the women in prisons were brought up in that system.
“It’s a lot of things that have happened to girls that came through the foster care system and I want to pay special attention to that group. I want to identify the issues and also develop solutions.”
Throughout her career, Suswell has advocated for the Muslim community on a grass-roots level and in political circles.
Thanks to her community’s efforts, Mayor Jim Kenney and the School District of Philadelphia officially recognized the Muslims’ two `Eid holidays.
Suswell also serves as an executive committee member for the Council of American Islamic Relations-PA, which advocates against discrimination and hate toward Muslims. In 2016, she served as the Democratic National Convention’s chair of the Muslim-American Host Committee, coordinating events for Muslims from across the country.
“If I were to describe Salima with one word, it would be balance — the balance of being a mother, being a Muslim, being a wife, being a professional, being a leader — and making it look easy. I’m impressed with that ability to juggle priorities and still get stuff done,” said City Councilman Curtis Jones.
“She deals with a bunch of males, which ain’t easy, strong-willed alpha males, and she will diplomatically navigate all of us to keep us focused,” Jones said.
“That is not easy, to keep our eyes on the prize.”
As she starts her volunteer work for the Commission for Women, Suswell is excited about what she hopes to achieve.
“I’m still young and I’ve done a lot in my years but I have so much more I am planning to do,” she said.
“I am excited about what I am going to do.”