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Rebeka Islam is an advocate for Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) rights and resources, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further fueled her fire to help within her community.
“When I realized that entire communities will fall through the cracks as a result of the obstacles to outreach and a lack of representation in the system, I started the journey towards bridging that gap in my own community however I could here in Greater Detroit and Southeastern Michigan,” said Rebeka.
Rebeka first began serving when she was a teenager. She remembers being a high schooler in Michigan when Hurricane Ike devastated thousands of lives hundreds of miles away. Although she didn’t have any personal ties to the areas devastated, she felt connected to the individuals going through such a life-altering circumstance.
Rebeka began fundraising to help those who were rebuilding their lives from the ground up, much like herself and her family had to do when they moved to the United States from Bangladesh when she was a young child.
“I was in awe at the kind of care people could give to each other when they were in need and energized that I could be part of a cause to help someone, somewhere,” said Rebeka.
When the fundraising efforts for Hurricane Ike victims subsided, Rebeka realized she could volunteer in a variety of other ways. She assisted in the opening of the first youth chapter of the Red Cross in Detroit, volunteered with the Skillman Foundation, and started phone banking with the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion in partnership with Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote-Michigan. The latter allowed her opportunities to speak to other Asian and Pacific Islander individuals with similar experiences of hardship and disconnect when moving to a new land.
“When I was younger, my family came to this country in search of opportunities, searching for a better life, and when we arrived here, we struggled to make ends meet for a long time, and we were on our own,” said Rebeka. “We had no one there to help us when we needed help.”
This is what motivates Rebeka to continue fighting and representing her community.
“I am determined to see to it that no one I encounter will ever have to suffer or endure hardship the way that my family and other families I know have had to in the past, and to empower all citizens to speak and participate in matters of civic engagement.”
Rebeka is the Executive Director of APIA Vote-MI and serves on the board of American Citizens for Justice, as a voluntary director of the League of Women Voters of Michigan, and a member of the Voter Empowerment Project. Additionally, she spends time volunteering to assist with food and clothing drives off work hours, provides translation and interpretation services in voting, partners to provide COVID-19 vaccination distribution, and serves as a guidance counselor for intercultural matchmaking. She has been appointed as the Director of Vincent Chin 40th Remembrance and Rededication.
“As long as I am able, I am proud and grateful to serve the community as a Bangladeshi Muslim American woman, mother and community advocate,” said Rebeka. “I am grateful that among many other beautiful cultures and religions which make up the tapestry of our state, both my Bangladeshi cultural heritage and Muslim faith have taught me to stand up against oppression and to care for my neighbors and community of all belief practices and backgrounds."