The Ali Leadership Institute graduated their 4th class and raised $30,000 with Jersey City elected officials at their annual gala at Liberty House last night.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
The Ali Leadership Institute was founded by former Jersey City Board of Education (BOE) President Mussab Ali and his sister, Abeera Saeed. When he was elected, he became the youngest elected official in Hudson County history.
Named after Muhammad Ali, the group chooses 10 to 15 fellows per cohort every year, who enter a training program and then propose projects to address social justice issues. A panel of judges review the projects and the winners receive funding.
“Public engagement truly is at its lowest point now, and there’s really not much information around civics. Fifty percent of young people don’t vote. Eighty percent of young people don’t believe in government,” Saeed said.
She noted Ali’s campaign for the BOE was organized by people 25 years old or younger and indicated that the nonprofit group grew out of the campaign.
Saeed also stated that young minorities like themselves “don’t always get seats at the table. We wanted to change that.”
Her brother echoed a similar sentiment when he was in front of the microphone.
“Investing in the next generation is all about change. When you see them, you see hope,” Ali said.
8th District Democratic congressional nominee Rob Menendez said he was impressed with what this group has been able to do.
“We’re facing existential challenges … but we can overcome them. And I believe it because of people like those in this room,” he stated.
“For several generations, we have failed to resolve these outstanding issues, but we have to figure out solutions to the challenges we’re facing.
Council President Joyce Watterman noted that “the glass ceiling still needs to be broken … Keep doing what you’re doing and keep cracking this glass ceiling.”
Ali also introduced a political mentor of his, Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea (D-2_, noting he was first elected in 1997.
“Thank you Mussab, for telling everyone how old I am,” O’Dea joked.
He noted after winning that race, he was defeated in his bid for second term, but came back to wi re-election a rematch.
“You learn better lessons in defeat than in victory because, in defeat, you learn to appreciate victory. You’re going to do everything you have to do to win.,” he noted.
O’Dea also said he was also a great fan of Muhammad Ali due in part to his opposition to the Vietnam War.
“He left nothing on the table. He gave everything to every fight he ever had in the ring. He knew what was going to happen to him. He knew how much money it would cost him,” he said about his opposition to the military draft.
“Never ever be afraid to stand alone if you believe what you’re standing for is the right thing to do. The greatest change in this country has always happened … because people are willing to stand alone, take the hits, take the repercussions of their actions.”
He also said not to underestimate the importance of voting since there was one instance where he was elected by a single ballot.
“Government and democracy was better when all of our voices were involved. Young people are severely underrepresented. We’ve never trusted government. We realized how important it was to have young people involved,” he told his peers.
“You start to think about the things that matter,” Ali said about his Stage 4 Lymphoma battle.
“I found my purpose. This program was something that mattered to me. I consider myself to be one of the luckiest individuals alive.”
The fellows who each received a $400 stipend are Omar Abuattieh, Mina Azab, Malak Aziz, Rania Dadlani, Sarah Dardir, Matthew Kassi, Ayaz Naeem, Noran Nazir, Marisa Syed, and
Additionally, O’Dea was the recipient of their Policy Leader Award, while Saeed received the Young Leader Award.
Other dignitaries in attendance included Jersey City BOE President Gerald Lyons, BOE Trustees Alexander Hamilton, Younass Barkouch, and Noemi Velazquez, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore, Hudson County Commissioner Anthony Romano (D-5), and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Norma Fernandez, among many others.