Ruva Romman, an 8-year-old girl, remembers being sad when she sat in the back of a school bus and watched her classmates laughing on the way home.
“There’s a bomb lab,” they said in another attempt to brand his family as terrorists.
On Tuesday, the same 29-year-old community organizer made history as the first Muslim woman elected to the Georgia House of Representatives and the first Palestinian-American elected to any state office.
After 10 months of nonstop campaigning, the Democrat said she wants to start representing the people of District 97, which includes Lake Berkeley and parts of Duluth, Norcross and Peachtree Bay in Gwinnett County.
As the granddaughter of immigrants and Palestinian refugees and a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, or Islamic headscarf, the path to political office has not been easy, especially in the Christian, conservative South.
“I could write chapters about what I’ve been through,” Romman told CNN, listing the many ways she’s faced hate and discrimination.
“The fact that I was randomly selected by the CIA, that teachers put me in a position where I had to defend Islam and Muslims, and taught me wrong things in the classroom about me and my identity, colored my whole life.”
But those challenges fueled her passion for civic engagement, especially in marginalized communities, Romman said.
“Who I am has really taught me to seek out the people who are most marginalized because they don’t have the resources or the time to ask for the help they need in the halls of political institutions,” she said.
Romman began working with the Georgia Muslim Voter Project in 2015 to increase voter turnout among local Muslim Americans. He also helped found the state chapter of the Council on American-Muslim Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.
Romman soon began working with the community. Her website boasts that “Ruva has volunteered at every stage of the election process since 2014, helping to make Georgia blue.”
He said the goal is to “bring public service back into politics” by expanding access to health care, closing the economic opportunity gap, protecting voting rights and providing access to life-saving care. abortion.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that state legislators have the most direct impact on them because they think they’re local and don’t have a lot of influence,” Romman said. “Every law that makes us mad or makes us happy started somewhere in the state legislature.”
Romman said he always wanted to influence the political process, but never thought he would become a politician.
She decided to run after attending a training session at the Georgia Muslim Voters Project for women from historically marginalized communities, and was asked by a reporter covering the event if she wanted to run.
“I told her no, she wrote a beautiful piece about Muslim women in Georgia, but she started it with ‘Ruva Romman is running for office,’ and I didn’t.” Romman recalled. “But when it came out, the public saw it and the response was very positive and everyone was telling me to do it.”
Two weeks later, Romman and a group of volunteers began the campaign.
He was surrounded by family, friends and community members who were the foundation of his success. Together, they knocked on 15,000 doors, sent 75,000 text messages, and made 8,000 phone calls.
His opponent, Republican John Chan, didn’t fight fair, he said.
“My opponent used anti-Muslim language against me and said I was associated with terrorism. At one point he directly supported an ad that called me a terrorist factory,” he said.
Pages supporting Chan’s nomination He was convinced that he was connected to terrorist organizations.
Chan did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
It was the same type of bullying Romman experienced as a schoolboy, he said. Only this time he wasn’t alone. Thousands of people accepted him.
“What’s amazing is that people in my district have sent me messages saying, ‘This is unacceptable.’ How can we help? How can we get involved? How can we support you?’ It was a really great moment for me,” he said.
It was also ironic, Romman added, because his passion for society and social justice comes from his faith: “Justice is a central tenant of Islam,” he points out. “It inspires me to be good to others, to take care of my neighbors and to protect the marginalized.”
It stems from the experience of a Palestinian refugee family expelled from Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
“My Palestinian self has given me a focus on justice and caring for others,” Romman said. “Everyone has the right to live with dignity. I hope Palestinians everywhere see this as proof that showing up and working hard can make history.
“I may not have much power in foreign policy, but I sincerely hope that I can at least remind people that the Palestinians are not the troublemakers, terrorists or other horrible atrocities that plague us as a society,” he added. “We are real people with real dreams.”
According to the Georgia Muslim Voters Project, Romman joins three other Muslim Americans elected to state and local office in Georgia this election, but his victory is particularly novel.
Shafina Habani, the group’s executive director, told CNN, “Even though we were under-represented in Georgia, these victories show that Georgia’s Muslims are more represented than ever, because now we are more gender- and ethnically-represented as Muslims.” . “Not only will we have representation that looks like us and aligns with our values, but we will also have the opportunity to advocate and influence policies that directly affect our community.”
“Diversity in political representation means better legislation and more leadership and policy recognition for all of Georgia,” he said.
More than anything else, Romman hopes this will be an election to choose a future free of hate and hatred.
“Hopefully, this will make people aware that Muslims are a part of this community and the tide of Islamophobia is beginning to subside,” Romman added.
Reflecting back on his childhood, Romman hopes that things will improve with time for the young man, and that one day he will not only make history in Georgia, but make a real difference in the world.