What Equity Means to Me: Meymuna Hussein-Cattan

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Equity. It is a term heard a lot these days. And yet, if you ask 10 people what it means, you might get 10 different answers. As OCG prepared for our 2020 Summit, “Equity in Action: Stories of Innovation & Collaboration” we are pleased to share with you how different members of our community understand, and most importantly, put into practice, equity. Together, we can move Orange County forward, implementing and aligning with the 10 +1 next steps as recommended in the OC Equity Profile.

Our first blog post in this series comes from Meymuna Hussein-Cattan, Founder of Flavors from Afar & The Tiyya Foundation, Meymuna received her MA in Organizational Management from Antioch University & her BA from the University of California, Irvine in Social Sciences. Currently an active board member of Refugee Forum Los Angeles and the Southern California Children’s Museum. Meymuna also serves on the OCG 2020 Summit Committee and was the 2019 Emerging Leader Award Winner.

To discuss equity, we should acknowledge the errors of equality. I believe they are both valuable to advancing society but are quite different approaches.  To me, equity is a form of strategic planning to strengthen our society and economy.  Equality is being kind to everyone while pretending we all started with the same resources and therefore not different from one another.  Equality is about etiquette and safe communities.  Equity is a sophisticated civilization. 

I am a dedicated supporter of the OCG Summit because I appreciate these meaningful conversations.  Each year I look forward to learning about ways that I could contribute meaningfully. Orange County is revered as a beautiful suburban lifestyle with luxurious homes and neighborhoods. We also have members of Orange County who require temporary housing, food donations, or access to transportation before they can join the race to success. 

Take me for example, I was born in a refugee camp. Like many first-gen students, I was the first woman in my family to graduate from high school and first person in my family to obtain a master’s degree.  I always expect people to treat me fairly and as an equal because I’m human. However, I also acknowledge that we didn’t start our lives in America with wealth or generational land ownership. My birth experience was high risk and revolved around trauma. My parents took years to learn English, save money, and adapt to their new surroundings.  I also acknowledge that high rates of American families experience poverty and need support with education.  However, I might experience more obstacles based on the pronunciation of my name or the hue of my skin. I might have to work harder than those around me, based on my appearance.

As society we celebrate the journey at the finish line without asking where they had to begin.  As nonprofit leaders it’s our role to continue the discussion.  We should let people know that we assess our program participants and keep track of their milestones.  One client’s first apartment is worth the equal celebration we shower our friends who purchased their first beach house. 

It’s not about who is better, brighter, or more capable.  Equality is the foundation. The question we should pose instead is ‘where did you begin and how could we collectively experience ease’?  I’m successful today because of those who invested in me, not because I worked hard in a silo.  It takes community to create a sophisticated society.  If one member of Orange County is advancing because of our support, then we all advance.

It requires all of us to pay attention and OC Grantmakers are leading the way.

More To Explore

How do we build a compassionate and inclusive America in an age of distrust? WAJAHAT ALI knows from personal experience that when we come together to be the superheroes of our own stories, we can create honest social change. The beloved TED speaker has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Atlantic about our urgent issues—immigration, politics, parenthood—with boldness, hope, and humor. His memoir Go Back to Where You Came From, one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Year, follows his life as a Muslim Pakistani-American on a surprising, emotional, and challenging quest for the good life. Iconic journalist Katie Couric says that “we are all so fortunate to be on the receiving end of his intellect, his humanity, and his heart.”

Wajahat Ali

“With wit and charm, Ali delivers a masterful meditation on growing up brown in America...he gives us a clear-eyed affirmation of the country America could be.” — Mara Gay, New York Times

Mara Gay, New York Times

Wajahat Ali uses his platform to fight tirelessly for the social change we need in our country—and he isn’t afraid to get personal while doing it. The Daily Beast columnist and former New York Times writer, TED speaker, award-winning playwright, and Peabody-nominated producer of the documentary series The Secret Life of Muslims offers us his experiences of triumph over hardship as a beacon of hope and resilience in the face of life’s impossible situations. From his experiences of Islamophobia growing up as a Muslim Pakistani-American to his two-year-old daughter’s liver cancer diagnosis, Wajahat is living proof that when we share our authentic stories, we build the America we wish to live in.”

In his memoir Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American, Wajahat teaches us how to create our own superhero origin story, invest in hope for the future of America, and enact real social change. The book was called “biting and funny and full of heart” by NPR. Representative Ilhan Omar called Wajahat’s work “hilarious” and “deeply moving”, and legendary writer Dave Eggers said it was the book he’d “been hoping Wajahat Ali would write for ten years—hilarious, stylistically fearless, deeply humane.”

Wajahat is also the author of The Domestic Crusaders—the first major play about Muslim-Americans in a post-9/11 world. He was the lead researcher and author for the Center for American Progress’s seminal report “Fear Inc., Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” and served as a national correspondent for Al Jazeera America, where he told stories about communities and individuals often marginalized or under-reported in mainstream media.

As Creative Director of Affinis Wajahat Labs, he worked to create social entrepreneurship initiatives to support and uplift marginalized communities. He also worked with the US State Department to design and implement the “Generation Change” leadership program to empower young social entrepreneurs. Wajahat initiated chapters in eight countries, including Pakistan and Singapore. For his work, he was honored as a “Generation Change Leader” by Sec. of State Clinton and recognized as an “Emerging Muslim American Artist” by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. 

He has given keynote speeches around the world such as TED, The Aspen Ideas Festival, Google, the United Nations, and The New Yorker Festival. His writing appears regularly in the New York TimesThe Atlantic, the Washington Post, and The Guardian. He’s a Senior Fellow at The Western States Center and Auburn Seminary and co-host of Al Jazeera’s The Stream.