Meet S. Nadia Hussain, Board of Education commissioner of Bloomingdale, NJ
S. Nadia Hussain serves on the Bloomingdale Board of Education in Passaic County. She has worked for 15 years in the nonprofit sector, from working to address domestic violence, to teaching photojournalism classes to refugee students, to running college programs championing civic engagement, to working on policies to support families. She is always striving to be of service to her community.
Q: What roles have you held in public service over the years?
A: Serving on the Board of Education as commissioner in Bloomingdale, New Jersey is my first elected position. But before that, and even now, I serve on my town’s Economic Development Commission. I was also appointed to the New Jersey Cultural Trust’s Board of Trustees a little under a year ago. I was also appointed to the New Jersey State Asian Pacific Islander Commission.
Q: What does your identity mean to you?
A: I identify as Bangladeshi American and Muslim American. Under that umbrella I also identify as Asian American. These identities are very important to me because in growing with my family, that part of my cultural identity has always been very strong. My parents very much raised me [knowing the importance of] speaking our language, the food, the clothes and a lot of the cultural pieces so it’s just part of who I am. I didn’t grow up in a very diverse place so seeing Asian American representation, even if I wasn’t East Asian, was still relatable because of cultural nuances and similarities. I also identify as a feminist and an activist because no matter what I do in my life, paid or unpaid, I try to live my life improving my relationships with people and being kind.
“I hosted the first Eid crescent lighting in my town ever. I organized it on my own and luckily had help from connections and supporters. I reached out to other people who had done it around the state and we had this incredible crescent lighting. So many people came out, we had an Imam and food was donated.“
“The education was amazing because so many people came out that weren’t Muslim. Muslim people came out and got to feel they had a place to show their culture and their religion was being represented. Non-Muslim folks came out and felt welcomed to learn about a cultural celebration that was new to them.”
– S. Nadia Hussain
Q: What do you believe are the needs of Muslim Americans in your town and how are you working to fulfill them?
A: I see the needs of Muslim Americans as the needs of everybody because, in the end, everybody wants to be able to live a life where they can prosper. I think everything I’m doing is for the whole community, the entire constituency. But in terms of how it helps the Muslim community is because of how much we value education. So many Muslims migrated to America over the last couple decades for the opportunity of education and better jobs. When I think of a school district that is functioning optimally, then yes, we are valuing education and providing those opportunities for all families, but I think it does have a special point for families who have come to this country to support their children’s education.
Q: What advice would you give to young Muslims who are interested in getting involved in activism, politics or community organizing?
A: I think sometimes when someone wants to get involved it seems overwhelming because they don’t know where to start. With Muslim Americans we don’t have many generations in the country used to knowing how the system works. But the thing is you can be that first, even if it might seem a little scary. There are so many entry points to activism or politics now, so having a desire and access to the Internet can be a good starting point.
“You can be a lawyer and be an activist. You can be a doctor and be an activist. You can be a restaurant owner and be an activist. You can be a computer programmer and be an activist. An intention and an interest is really the most important thing to have. It is for you to decide how activism looks in your life.“
– S. Nadia Hussain
Q: What does activism mean to you?
A: Growing up one thing my parents always expressed to me about Islam is that Islam is about service. It is a submission to God but it is also about service to your community. What Islam also says is that if you are in a foreign land and a country that is not Muslim majority, you can have your religion but you can also adapt and be part of the culture and community that you moved to. I think that’s actually a very powerful thing because as a Muslim American you should do good because you want good done to you. It only makes sense to want to contribute that service and harmony so the act of service should be an integral part of your practice. activism or politics now, so having a desire and access to the Internet can be a good starting point.
Q: What are some of your key priorities for the Board and how have you achieved them? What are your future goals?
A: I just finished my first term and I will say I achieved all my campaign goals, and then some, which I am extremely proud of. I brought financial stability to the district. I brought leadership stability—after 10 years, we hired a full-time permanent superintendent. Our town now has universal Pre-K. In terms of my future goals, I want to see progress continue with updated renovation of schools, which will prioritize children’s education and also the livability of our town. The other piece is continued transparency like accessibility to the Board so people and parents know what is happening within the school district.
Q: Why do you feel Muslim representation on school boards is vital?
A: I feel like I can ensure that our district is inclusive and celebratory of culture and diversity from different backgrounds.