Nida Allam didn’t always see a place for herself in politics. But on Election Day, she was one of five women elected to the Durham County Board of Commissioners, making her the first Muslim woman elected to public office in North Carolina.
Allam is a graduate of N.C. State University where she studied sustainable materials and technology, planning to get a job in sustainable supply chains after graduating. But after her friends Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were killed in Chapel Hill in 2015, just months before her graduation, she decided to make the switch to politics.
Allam said she began looking at how the Muslim voice wasn't being heard or discussed in a way that was representative of Muslim Americans.
“That was also when the 2016 presidential campaigns were gearing up, and the Bernie Sanders campaign really resonated with me," Allam said. "He talked about Muslims as people who care about their neighbors and want to work for a better America, rather than in the stereotypical way Muslims are often talked about.”
Allam worked as a political director for the Sanders presidential campaign in 2016. In that role, she focused on reaching out to marginalized communities and educating residents on policies and issues.
A year later, she was elected as third vice chairperson of the N.C. Democratic Party, making her the first Muslim elected to the Executive Council. And in 2018, she was appointed to the Durham Mayor’s Council for Women and was unanimously elected as chairperson of the Council, which works to alleviate the issues women face in Durham.
“Nida is a great example of a person who is just incredibly qualified for their role,” Brigid Godfrey, deputy communications director for the North Carolina Democratic Party, said. “She’s had a long history of being involved with the Durham community and above all else, that is what’s important when we elect somebody.”
Allam said she decided to run for the Board because of the important role local government plays in the day-to-day lives of residents, and because it would allow her to build a direct relationship with her constituents.
Her campaign centered around issues that she said resonated with Durham residents like increasing salaries for Durham Public Schools staff, increasing access to jobs and fighting for safe and healthy communities. She said creating a resource center for immigrants in Durham that provides language services and other support is one of her top priorities.
“Her campaign focused on ‘fighting for what our communities deserve’ by being a voice for every resident living in Durham County,” Allam’s campaign said in a press release. “While Nida is a Democrat, she vows to represent all walks of life and beliefs, knowing that we can be a stronger voice when we work together.”
Godfrey said Democrats up for election across the state, including Allam, were the most diverse slate of candidates the North Carolina Democratic Party has ever had.
Allam said having a government that represents the community it serves is something she’s really passionate about.
“As a millennial, as a Muslim woman, as an immigrant, politics and government never really had a seat for me to come to,” Allam said. “And now I can start creating those seats for other people.”
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