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I Knew I Had To Tell My Story: #419HerStory with Farah El Nahal

Updated: May 18, 2022

As a first-generation American, Egyptian, Muslim woman, my experiences have always been intersectional and complex. Because of the challenges and barriers, I have felt, it took me time to step outside of my comfort zone at the University of Toledo. I spent most of my undergraduate experience, not putting myself out there and playing it safe. With the pandemic cutting through halfway into my college experience, I was often filled with regret of “what I could have accomplished.” It was easy to feel sorry for myself as I was stuck in my room, taking online classes, feeling like these circumstances may never end. Now looking back at my time spent during quarantine, the time spent self-reflecting is something I hold very dear to my heart. Without it, I would not have had the ability to create healing, to recognize my weaknesses, and to understand the power of my potential.

My first semester back in person at the University of Toledo started in August 2021 and suddenly I was a senior. It was difficult to process that I was not a sophomore anymore. I was about to leave the campus where I spent half of time as a student at home. I felt robbed of a real college experience and felt insecure about my involvement experience. Because of my time self-reflecting during quarantine, I knew it was time to step into my own personal power. Even though I felt scared, I knew I had to start my advocacy projects.

With rising suicide rates on campus, I decided to write blogs about my mental health journey on Instagram to normalize the struggles that most college students experience and to normalize people like me struggling. As a woman of color, it is easy to fall into feelings of inadequacy because we are not seen, valued, or uplifted in the same ways our white and or male peers are. I could no longer wait for someone else to start the work or representation I so desperately wanted and needed. When I witnessed the potential of my impact, I knew I had to keep telling my story. I organized an event for the Center for the Muslim Woman called, “Family Impacts on American Muslim College Students.” I held and spoke at this panel because I never wanted another young Muslim to contemplate giving up because they did not have a system of support or a sense of community. After that event, I knew that I had continue to disrupt the harmful patterns in American Muslim and Arab American communities.

I am especially interested in increasing the financial literacy of Muslim and Arab Women; creating more opportunities for American Muslims and Arabs to develop their confidence and leadership skills and increasing access to mental health care in American Muslim and Arab American communities. I want American Muslims and Arab Americans to believe in themselves, trust their decisions, and empower themselves to bring their dreams to life. Because of the marginalization and disempowerment my friends and I have felt, this is the type of work I am committed to. Fighting for equity for communities that have less access to the same resources as the majority has become a part of my purpose. When I learned about Women of Toledo and their mission, it was a no-brainer for me to apply to become an apprentice.

Applying to be an apprentice for Women of Toledo, an organization that is dedicated to the empowerment of all women, was the beginning of finding community and mentorship for myself. I wanted to be a part of the process of creating opportunities to bridge gaps in resources for young girls and women who are marginalized. When I was interviewed by Nina Corder, the Founding & Managing Director of Women of Toledo, it felt like everything coming into place. Here I was listening to a passionate woman who has faced barriers in her life, lead this organization successfully and continue her advocacy work to increase gender equity in Toledo. In that moment, I could see myself in her position, one day leading an organization and fighting for gender equity. I was so incredibly moved and inspired by her unwavering determination and power.

I started my Women of Toledo Apprenticeship in early February of 2022. It is now April and I have learned so much in the span of a few months. As soon as I began, I started to assist in the International Women’s Day event. It was so special to see everyone’s hard work come to fruition on March 8th, 2022. Hearing every woman speak at the event about the ways they have continued to persevere through discrimination, marginalization, and disempowerment, awakened the fight in me so I too can persevere and share my story one day. Since then, I got to witness the city council CEDAW passing and assist in Women of Toledo’s women’s history month event. I am about to graduate from the University of Toledo with a degree in political science and a minor in Arabic this May. I intend to continue my apprenticeship with Women of Toledo in the summer. I am so eager and excited to continue to assist in these crucial economic and community development initiatives and programs. It is through this apprenticeship, that I am so confident in taking my next steps into a city planning graduate program starting Fall 2022. I am so grateful for all the mentors I have gained from Women of Toledo and the opportunity to assist them in building community, networks, and support for Toledo women. +

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