The Ali Leadership Institute held its annual summer gala fundraiser at the Liberty House Restaurant in Jersey City last night.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
The event was a black tie affair and was held on the second floor of the venue, while the Hudson County Democratic Organization hosted their annual summer barbecue honoring outgoing County Executive Tom DeGise.
This led to some interesting style clashes on the second floor, given that several electeds attended both events, including DeGise himself.
Former Jersey City Board of Education President and Institute Founder Mussab Ali introduced Prospect Park Business Administrator Intashan Chowdhury, a board member whom he said is the youngest BA in state history. He served as the master of ceremonies.
“He opened the door, and he thought, let me use my platform and pave the way for other people. I think that’s so noble,” Chowdhury said regarding Ali and the institute.
“It’s been such an amazing ride. There’s such a lack of leadership and building a pipeline of the next batch of leaders, especially folks that come from, you know, urban communities. The Ali Institute built a rocket.”
Ali Leadership Institute Co-founder and CEO Abeera Saeed, Ali’s sister, thanked everyone for their support before mentioning that they just graduated their fifth cohort of fellows.
She also explained the organization was built on the coattails of Ali’s Board of Education campaign that was powered by students 25 and younger.
“A lot of students were asking us, what’s next? How can we help? After a few discussions and a back and forth, the Ali Institute was born,” Saeed noted.
She explained they trained young people, primarily minorities from low-income urban communities, on the nuances of civic engagement and politics.
Every summer, for eight Saturdays, they instructed students, ages 16 to 22, on government, how to run for office, how to fundraise, and how to run social media campaigns.
“It has been a short time together, but it has been extremely impactful. The majority of young people … are not civically engaged. We lack the critical understanding of the system that governs us. It has inhibited our ability to participate,” class commencement speaker Yousef Kassem noted.
When the new cohort came in, they could not name their local, state, and federal representatives. He explained they learned about politics and the state legislature, lobbyists, and political action committees (super PACs).
“We met with seasoned politicians and activists. Each offered a unique perspective… on the challenges they faced in effecting change. We face near constant rejection as we went through Jersey City to decrease the voting age,” Kassem said.
“Those were probably the most fun times and experiences we shared. We were uncomfortable, but we were uncomfortable together. We were scared together. We grew.
Ali then introduced the cohort leaders and the projects they did after taking classes.
First, Nashwa Faruk stated that their project was to empower young women by launching a self-defense program by partnering with a martial arts studio. Arza Bano then explained for that they wanted to launch a food pantry to address food insecurity and hygiene issues.
Additionally, Zakariya Barkouch explained for the Plant Enthusiasts Association they wanted to foster recycling home growing of healthy food since nearly half of Jersey City is a food desert where people live far from grocery stores with fresh vegetables.
Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-33), also the Democratic nominee for state Senate in the new 32nd Legislative District, was then awarded the “Policy Leader of the Year Award.”
“This week, the former president and commander in chief of the armed forces of the world’s great democracy was indicted for the third time, three separate indictments charging him with serious felonies,” he declared.
“By the time of the first presidential primary, he might very well be indicted in four separate jurisdictions.”
Mukherji also assert that his proposed Muslim travel ban was harmful to many Indian communities.
“Donald Trump is not the ailment of the disease. They are the symptoms. He was elected president. He’s running neck and neck with Joe Biden and could again be elected President of the United States,” he explained.
“Climate remains an existential threat, as do all these other things that threaten our democracy being in a state of disrepair. We’ve … all done our best to screw up our planet and our country for you. You have the tools, the advice, and the drive to play your part in trying to help us all heal from the very real threats.”
New Jersey Young Democrats President Fatima Hayward, the first Black woman to hold the post, was then awarded “Young Leader of the Year.”
“I started this journey to fight for people who looked like me. Don’t ever do yourself a disservice by not speaking up. Don’t let anyone intimidate you for speaking up,” she asserted.
DeGise then joined the program, with Ali congratulating him on his years of service.
He pointed out that his daughter, Jersey City Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise, has been working with the institute.
“Keep it up. Keep working hard. We need you. We need you to follow the path to build upon. Good luck. I’m a little underdressed,” he joked.
Ali explained they launched the Institute in 2018. He noted that they were motivated to do so when Trump alleged “I remember seeing thousands and thousands of Muslims in Jersey City celebrating on 9/11.”
“I remember this stuck with me. Why is it in my community, somebody is saying this about my community, and there is no one to represent us. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the elected process.”
Ali noted he did not win his first board of education election in 2016, but he was motivated to push forward after Trump prevailed at the polls that same year. He also recalled that when battling cancer,, the students at the institute inspired him.
“I look into their eyes, and I see hope for the future,” Ali declared.
“Every time I hear this young man speak, he inspires me … This institute is so important and critical. It gives me hope about the future,” one of his mentors, Hudson County Commissioner Bill O’Dea (D-2) said.
He also praised their work seeking to address prison illiteracy to reduce crime, later cracking a joke about Chowdhury’s tenure in Prospect Park.
“Does it run past the end of 2025?” O’Dea, a potential mayoral candidate for 2025, said with a smile.