Q: Please start by introducing yourself, your name, your pronouns, and where you are from and where you are now.
My name is Rana Abdelhamid, my pronouns are she/her/hers. I'm from Queens, New York and I'm based in Queens, New York, so I'm here right now. I love being from here and I'm really proud of being from here. And I don't think New York is dead—If there are rumors, I just want everyone to know.
Q: You are a community organizer, a nonprofit founder, a self defense expert & advocate...when did you discover your passion for public service?
I started organizing and doing public service at a really young age. It came from a place of seeing harm being done onto my community, onto people I care about, onto myself and wanting to not be passive. Wanting to create change for myself and family and community.
And so, I started organizing and started volunteering at 14, like really young. I was in high school and involved in different community organizations in my neighborhood. I started the nonprofit that I run today when I was 16. I never thought it was going to be a nonprofit when I started it. It was a program in my neighborhood for girls who were my friends. It's grown into this international nonprofit from all the women who came together with me to vision a world where all women could be safe and in our power. It's been an incredible journey.
Q: You are an advocate for gender justice. Why is it so important for you to spearhead this movement in your community?
I think gender justice is really important, because we've normalized so much of the violence that women face. We've normalized the ways in which our bodies experience harm, like walking down the street, in our homes, in schools, in the workplace. It feels to me that this shouldn't be right; we should be wanting to create change so that we don't have to worry about being safe.
I just facilitated a workshop this weekend, and during the workshop we asked “what would you do or what would it feel like if the world was safe.” It was 15 and 16 year old teenage girls, and they were like, “we'd be able to walk down the street.” There were like seven of those answers. Even at such a young age, that's something that we're so aware of. That's what pushes me to do this. I don't think that we should have to exist in a world where our bodies should feel so unsafe for us.
I come to this work from my identity as a Muslim woman, as a woman of color, as a child of immigrants. As someone who grew up working class who's experienced various levels of gender violence but also state sanctioned violence and hate based violence, and that all manifested against my body in different ways. So I think from that, I've experienced a level of understanding and empathy when I speak to survivors or young women or women who are experiencing these forms of violence, as someone who has survived. How do I make sure that they have a safe space to process, and also like re-engage their body in a way that allows them to understand the power of their body, because I have felt that sense of powerlessness and I have been able to take that for myself and turn it into a sense of power. I want to be able to recreate that for other people too.
Definitely, your personal experience was pushing you to create change. All it takes is one brave person to spark something, so I know you are making change.
I never thought I would exist in a time where it would be more of a problem. It's definitely more mainstream like with the Me Too movement and the Black Lives Matter movement; there's a heightened level of consciousness at a mainstream public level, so these conversations aren't happening in pockets that are away from society. When you open the news, people are talking about social justice and it wasn't like that when I first started. It's a weird and scary time to exist when you look at all the pain...but also, look at all the hope. People are organizing and creating change and working toward a better world in the face of so much hardship, and that's really inspiring to me.
Q: What makes you feel empowered—when you’re feeling low, what lifts you up?
Honestly, it's always the women that I get to work with. This is what's so great about the organizing work that we've created through Malikah, we always say we organize from a place of joy. It's about our relationships with one another and the sisterhood we create; it's about taking care of ourselves and each other, and that gives me so much hope and happiness. Just the fact that we've been able to create safety in this very small space gives me hope that we can create that for the rest of the world, because I've seen how it is possible. That gives me a lot of power, to be around powerful women and to learn about the history of powerful women and the women who've done this work is really inspiring to me.
Q: The people around you are so important when you're trying to make change. I'm sure that sometimes you think “maybe it's not worth it, maybe it's not making a difference,” but having those people around you to really encourage you can really spark something big.
1,000%, because there are many moments when it feels like the problem is way too daunting, especially when you're working in a field where it's directly about violence. I always have to reframe my thinking, and this is what I remind folks when I'm doing organizing training: how do we center not reacting to the violence, which is very hard. When I started Malikah, it was in response to a moment of violence I experienced. But I didn’t want to be building this organization from a point of reacting to violence—rather in proactively creating the world I want to build. That separation feels really simple but it creates a world of a difference in terms of the emotional wellbeing that you feel in doing this work, because your center is no longer that violence. Your center becomes something really positive and beautiful, and creates sustainability for the relationships you build. To create sustainability in that is a long term, lifelong effort which is really powerful.
Q: Sharing that you develop this from a place of joy is really beautiful. When you experience violence or know someone that has experienced abuse in that way, it's so easy to be reactive and quick and angry. You don't want to be reactive, you want to be proactive, like you said. And think “how can I prevent this, what can I do to kind of reframe this and turn it into something positive and beautiful.”
Q: Let’s talk about beauty. What is your makeup story? When did you first start wearing makeup and expressing yourself through beauty?
I'm Egyptian so eyeliner is a really big thing for me. I watch my mom and it's just so interesting how she wears eyeliner. She puts the pen and just goes back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It almost feels like a ritual, watching my mom do that. I always really wanted to wear eyeliner.
Growing up in New York, there’s such an emphasis on how you express yourself; on how you’re stepping out the door. It wasn’t until later on in my life that—especially now that people are talking about makeup as something for yourself, about how you are self-expressing—that i have been able to wrap my head around that messaging, and what it means for me.
Q: What beauty product makes you feel most empowered?
I really love lipstick, it feels so fun to be able to pick different colors that add that special touch to a look!
Q: We are so honored to include you in imayla’s #TheFaceOfBeauty campaign. Can you tell me about your experience on set/your look/your initial thoughts on the products?
Being on set was so fun! I loved meeting the whole imayla team and getting my makeup done with all of the products. They were lightweight and so pretty, and I adored the whole look.
Q: What does #EmpoweringIndividualism mean to you? What do you hope to express through this campaign?
#EmpoweringIndividualism means allowing people to step into their power. I hope this campaign will allow women across NYC and the globe to see that they hold the power to create change for themselves and their communities in a way that will inspire so many people around them.