Celebrate These Notable Women for Arab American Heritage Month
Happy Arab American Heritage Month!
In celebration of Arab American Heritage Month, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado honors the vital contributions of Arab American women. Sadly, Arab Americans face immense stereotypes, violence, and discrimination. This dehumanization often overshadows their achievements. Although there are endless Arab American women making an impact, we are highlighting a few local and nationally recognized trailblazers that are paving new ways. Despite prejudicial barriers, these notable women have achieved groundbreaking success and use their voice to empower and uplift others.
Toni Breidinger, Race Car Driver
Toni Breidinger made history in February 2023, becoming NASCAR’s first Arab American female driver when she raced in the ARCA Menard Series at the Daytona International Speedway. Breidinger knew she would be a race car driver at 9-years-old after taking a trip to Sonoma Raceway with her dad to ride go-karts. She is a 19-time United States Auto Club winner.
“I’m honored and excited to be the first, but I don’t want to be the last… I hope I can pave the way for future female Arab drivers as well.” –Toni Breidinger, from CNN
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Pediatrician, Professor, and Activist
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is an associate dean and professor at Michigan State University. Also, she serves as a pediatrician at Hurley Children’s Hospital. She is a first generation Iraqi-American immigrant, who grew up in metro Detroit. Dr. Hanna-Attisha is the founding director of the Pediatric Public Health Initiative in Flint, Michigan. She is recognized as one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and one of USA Today’s Women of the Century for her role in uncovering the Flint Water Crisis and leading the recovery efforts.
According to the 2022 U.S. Census Bureau, Flint, Michigan is 56.7% Black, and 35.5% of the city’s residents live below the poverty line. Impoverished communities and communities of color face an increased risk of exposure to unsafe water. Although the entire city was affected, the majority of affected neighborhoods were predominantly Black and low-income. Dr. Hanna-Attisha is the author of the widely acclaimed book, What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City.
“Challenging injustice means standing up for the weak, the vulnerable, the abused, and the forgotten… It means fighting oppression at every opportunity—no matter the place or country.” –Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha
Iman Jodeh, Colorado Representative for House District 41
Iman Jodeh is the first Muslim and Palestinian-American elected to the Colorado General Assembly. Representative Jodeh began her political journey as an activist. She is the founder of Meet the Middle East, a nonprofit community-based organization that supports and teaches about the Muslim community. Now, she serves as the representative for House District 41 in Aurora, where she was raised and spent majority of her life. Representative Jodeh is passionate about progressive change. She is working toward quality health care that is accessible to everyone, increased job security, better education, immigration rights, affordable housing, and criminal justice reform.
“I was never advocating or doing social justice work to build a track record. The end game was never to be an elected (official). I did it because it needed to happen.” –Iman Jodeh, from Colorado Politics
Candace Lightner, Activist
After her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver, Candace Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in 1980. Lightner is the driving force behind altering society’s attitude toward drunk driving. She is credited with saving over 400,000 lives through her advocacy. Lightner helps victims seek justice through the legal system and has advocated, testified, and formed coalitions for over 700 bills in legislation. In 2014, Lightner founded We Save Lives, an organization that focuses on the “3 D’s” –drugged, drunk and distracted driving– to increase highway safety.
“The road through grief is a rocky one. Traveling along it requires courage, patience, wisdom, and hope.” –Candace Lightner
Deena Shakir, American Venture Capitalist
Deena Shakir is a General Partner at Lux Capital. She invests in transformative health technologies to improve lives and livelihoods. Her investment sectors include women’s health, digital health infrastructure, health equity, foodtech and fintech. Shakir specifically invests in intersectional and underdog entrepreneurs working to accelerate advances and equity in healthcare. Before tech and venture, Shakir worked for Google and was a Presidential Management Fellow at the U.S. Department of State under Secretary Clinton, where she helped launch President Obama’s first Global Entrepreneurship Summit in 2010.
“Be a good person. Karma matters in this industry. Even though this is a very competitive and cutthroat industry, I think it’s important to be kind, empathetic, and honest. Your reputation is really all you have.” –Deena Shakir, from Medium
Noor Tagouri, Journalist, Producer and Speaker
Noor Tagouri is an award-winning journalist, producer, motivational speaker, and storyteller. In 2019, Noor founded At Your Service Imprint, a production company and consultancy focused on telling stories through a lens of service. In 2022, Noor launched her investigative series podcast, called Rep, in partnership with iHeartMedia. Noor began Rep by examining the misrepresentation of Muslims in US media and its effects on American culture. This investigative series explores the ever-evolving story of America and reveals how the stories we tell affect us all. In 2019, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado had the privilege of having Noor Tagouri as an Annual Luncheon Speaker!
“I break the rules, I allow myself to step out of my comfort zone and make people uncomfortable along the way. That personal ‘rebellion’ is a form of honesty; it’s about being your most authentic self and living up to the meaning of Noor (‘Light’ in Arabic).” –Noor Tagouri
Rashida Tlaib, Congresswoman
Rashida Tlaib serves as an American politician and lawyer representing Michigan’s 13th District. In 2018, Rashida Tlaib won a historic race, making her the first Palestinian-American woman, and one of the first Muslim Americans, to be elected to Congress. Congresswoman Tlaib is passionate about racial and immigration justice, environmental justice, LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive justice, affordable housing, and quality healthcare for all.
“My mere existence as a member of Congress as a Palestinian causes a lot of fear, because I’m here as a human being, as an American, that is saying to the world that we exist.” –Rashida Tlaib
Maysoon Zayid-Comedian, Actress & Writer
Maysoon is a comedian, actress, writer and disability advocate. She is the first female Muslim comedian in America and the first to perform stand-up in Palestine and Jordan. Maysoon is the co-founder and co-executive producer of the New York Arab American Comedy Festival and The Muslim Funny Fest. In 2014, Maysoon had the most viewed TED Talk titled “I got 99 problems… Palsy is just one“. Maysoon has received significant recognition for her work. The Women’s Foundation of Colorado also had the honor of having Maysoon Zayid as a 2019 Annual Luncheon Speaker.
“Comedy is free therapy. And if it’s done well, the audience and the comic take turns being the doctor as well as the patient.” –Maysoon Zayid
Take time during Arab American Heritage Month to educate yourself. Visit Arab America Foundation and Arab America to learn more. Uplift Arab American voices and celebrate your fellow Americans! Our hope is that this month, and every month, the United States will live by its promise that all are created equal and advance a more equitable, diverse society of opportunity for Arab Americans and all people. Happy Arab American Heritage Month!