KEYNOTE - Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi is an internationally-known scholar and activist committed to collective work and justice-centered scholarship and pedagogy. She has co-founded several community organizations such as the U.S. Branch of the General Union of Palestine Students, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Associations in North America, and the Palestine Solidarity Committee. Dr. Abdulhadi is the Director and Senior Scholar in the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas and Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies/Race and Resistance Studies at the historic College of Ethnic Studies, San Francisco State University (SFSU). Before joining SFSU, she served as the first director of the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan, Dearborn. She is a Policy Advisor for Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian independent think tank, and serves on the International Advisory Board of World Congress of Middle East Studies where she chairs its International Committee. She is a co-founder and Editorial Board member of the Islamophobia Studies Journal and co-author of Mobilizing Democracy: Changing US Policy in the Middle East. She co-edited Arab and Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence and Belonging, winner of the 2012 National Arab American non-fiction Book Award, and a special issue of MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies special issue on gender, nation and belonging. Dr. Abdulhadi was the first Arab or Muslim to be elected to the Board of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Sarah Hassaine is a long time advocate and community builder in the ArabAmerican community. After obtaining her Bachelors degree, Sarah moved to Beirut, Lebanon to do advocacy work for refugees. She then moved to Washington, DC to work for the political branch of the Algerian Embassy and to pursue a master's degree in public policy. In 2005, Sarah joined the board of the DC chapter of the Network of Arab-American Professionals, ultimately serving as VP and then as President. While in DC, she was also an active volunteer with ADC, AAI, CAIR, and Creative Associates. Sarah also spent a year on the Board of the Smithsonian African Art museum, representing the perspective of North Africans. To date, Sarah has launched NAAP chapters in Seattle and San Diego and has continued to volunteer with ADC San Diego and the annual Arab film festival. Professionally, Sarah's interests lie in the intersection of technology and social impact. Sarah is a Diversity and Inclusion practitioner for the telecommunications company Qualcomm. She is currently pursing her Executive MBA at Wharton's Business School.
Talar Samuelian is a 10-year veteran K-12 teacher who began teaching in South Central Los Angeles in 2009. She is an expert in inclusive pedagogy and technology integration. Years of teaching in neglected communities molded her beliefs in building equity, celebrating diversity, and developing relationships with families and community leaders. In 2013, Alliance College-Ready Public Schools honored Talar as Teacher of the Year in recognition for being a passionate, student-centered educator. Talar earned her master’s degree in educational foundations and has a second master's degree in school leadership with administrative credential from California State University. Talar currently serves as coordinator of the ADC Orange County chapter.
Rima is an Arab American who was born and raised in Lebanon. She moved to the United States in 2006 as a single mother with her two children. She has been serving for six years as a Consular Officer at the Consulate General of the State of Qatar in Los Angeles, with expertise in dealing with a wide range of services for Qatari citizens traveling or living in the U.S. including assisting in locating missing citizens, helping Qatari citizens get appropriate health care and assisting with criminal justice matters. Today, Rima’s purpose and passion is helping other women achieve their goal in reaching the top of their field and to be an effective member of their community.
David Sheen is an independent journalist born and raised in Toronto, Canada who has been reporting from the ground in Israel-Palestine for the past decade. His feature documentary on ecological architecture, First Earth, was translated into a dozen languages and published by PM Press in 2010. Sheen gave a TEDx talk on the topic of the film in Johannesburg, South Africa later that year. In 2010 and 2011, Sheen worked as a reporter and content editor for the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz. In 2012, he authored a report on racism in Israel for the United Nations. Ever since, Sheen has written both reportage and opinion pieces for a variety of local, regional and international publications, including The Electronic Intifada, The New Arab, Al Jazeera, and Middle East Eye. Thousands of these articles carry the byline of the journals that published them, but hundreds of them are identified as authored by Sheen. He is often sought out by foreign media as a commentator on Israeli affairs. Since 2014, he has delivered lectures on these topics at universities around the world and multiple European parliaments. In 2017, Sheen was recognized for his reporting and named a Human Rights Defender by the Ireland-based Front Line Defenders.
Nahla Kayali is an advocate and a community leader who empowers individuals and families to ensure they have access to adequate health resources. Arriving to the U.S. as a Palestinian refugee from Syria at the age of 16, married, and having finished only the 9th grade, Nahla founded Access California Services (AccessCal) in 1998. AccessCal is a culturally and linguistically competent health and human services non-profit organization in Anaheim dedicated to empowering all under-served populations, with a focus on Arab-American and Muslim-American communities. Under Nahla’s executive leadership, AccessCal has grown from a budget of $2,000 to $1.9 million, serving an estimated 10,000 clients and providing over 55,000 services annually. Nahla’s work continues to make an impact at local and national levels and has awarded her multiple recognitions, including the “Champion of Change” award from the White House in 2014. Nahla serves as the Chairperson of the Orange County Refugee Forum, holds the State Refugee Forum Seat for the State Advisory Council on Refugee Services, holds a seat with the State Office of Health Equity, and serves on many national and international boards.
Sergio Perez is the managing attorney of the Franco Law Group, APLC’s San Diego office. His practice includes cases in both San Diego and Los Angeles. Perez is originally from Tijuana, Mexico and grew up in the border region which encompasses Tijuana and San Diego, California. Perez earned his Juris Doctor Degree from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law. He serves on the Board of Directors of Latinos y Latinas En Acción in the San Diego community of City Heights. Further, Attorney Perez frequently volunteers at naturalization workshops and seminars held by Latinos y Latinas En Acción and Chaldean-Middle Eastern Social Services in El Cajon, California.
Nicholas Espíritu is a Staff Attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. Espíritu focuses on promoting the rights of low-income immigrants through litigation and administrative advocacy.
Smadar Lavie is a Mizrahi American-Israeli anthropologist, specializing in the anthropology of Egypt, Israel and Palestine focusing on race, gender and religion. Affiliated with the Ethnic Studies Department of U.C. Berkeley, Lavie recently was the Spatz Visiting Chair in Jewish Studies at Dalhousie University, Canada. Since Lavie’s outspoken activism resulted in an 8-year-long stop-exit order inside of Israel, she has focused on establishing feminist, anti-racist movements, including Israel’s first Feminist of Color NGO, Ahoti. She authored The Poetics of Military Occupation (UC Press 1990), receiving the honorable mention of the Victor Turner Award for Ethnographic Writing, and received an honorable mention from the Association of Middle East Women’s Studies for Wrapped in the Flag of Israel: Mizrahi Single Mothers and Bureaucratic Torture (Berghahn 2014, Nebraska UP 2018). Lavie won the American Studies Association 2009 Gloria Anzaldua Prize, and in 2013 won the Heart at East Honor Plaque for lifetime service to Mizrahi communities in Palestine-Israel.
Nabil Azzam was born and raised in Nazareth, Palestine. He is a longtime activist and frequent speaker on issues related to Palestinian citizens of Israel. Azzam is the former president of the Arab-American Friends of Nazareth and currently serves on its Board. Azzam holds a B.A. in violin, both B.Mus. and M.A in musicology, and a Ph.D. in music. Dr. Azzam has established himself as a world-renowned conductor, arranger, composer, virtuoso violinist, and oud player. He founded MESTO in 2000 with the goal of presenting world ethnic music with the discipline of western classical music. He has astonished audiences across the United States and the Middle East with his original compositions and impeccable orchestrations of works by artists from all over the world, which showcase his mastery in both Western Classical and Middle Eastern musical styles. Maestro Azzam was honored in 2015 at the Cairo Opera House and was awarded the prestigious Palestinian medal of culture, science and arts of highest degree from President Mahmoud Abbas. Developing and promoting MESTO is the Maestro's primary goal, as he is preparing new compositions and arrangements to be premiered by MESTO.
Somer Sood is a Palestinian-American humanitarian, aid worker, interior-designer, and business owner who is native to Orange County, California. When she’s not running her home décor store, Black Bough, in Laguna Beach, she dedicates her time to philanthropy. She previously ran a non-profit to provide school supplies to refugee children in Greece. Currently, she coordinates logistics for aid and volunteers traveling to international refugee camps.