Image credit: Hermes Rivera | Unsplash Image
This week we have Fayrouz Saad in the She’s Trending interview corner. Her intellect and family roots embedded in culture are the foundation to her mission. A [groundbreaker] in her own right, Fayrouz is Detroit’s first immigrant affairs director. A testament to her childhood dreams, she was born for this position and is just getting started. Watch out Detroit!
Q: Who is Fayrouz Saad, what do you do, and why?
A: I am the Immigrant Affairs Director for the city of Detroit. I do this, because I want to help immigrants succeed and be engaged in the community. My job consists of informing existing immigrant communities about how to be politically engaged through funded programs and engagements within the city. Existing immigrants are at the forefront of my initiative to help them integrate into society; however, I want to ensure to the community that the city of Detroit helps all people who are willing to learn. The more engaged the community is on public policy, the more we will function better as a society. My job as immigrant affairs director extends beyond my role at the city of Detroit, as I serve on the board for Emerge USA, which is a non-profit organization ensuring underrepresented communities, specifically Muslim-Americans, have equal constitutional rights, social privileges and political opportunities. This is just one of the organizations I’m apart of in Detroit. I don’t do it, because I have to. I do this because it’s my passion and to be a better resource for the community.
Q: What was it like growing up in Dearborn, Michigan?
A: It was a unique experience. Dearborn is home to the largest concentration of Arab immigrants in the United States. My background is Lebanese, and I grew up in an environment that was rich and strong in process. I was first generation American, so my life experiences differed from my parents. I had a lot of friends growing up, which gave me a lot of perspective. I could connect with people from different backgrounds and socioeconomic classes. The youth may connect my life to Mindy Khaling in the Mindy project; however, I believe it prepared me for my purpose and position, today.
Q: You grew up about 15 minutes outside of Detroit, went to the University of Michigan, left to get your Master’s degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and came back home to be appointed Detroit’s Immigrant Affairs Director. What was your journey like and how does it feel to come home and give back to the community you grew up in?
A: It was an interesting journey. It’s nontraditional for women, like me, to be involved in public service. My parents were very supportive from the start, as they knew what I wanted to be involved in. At first, I would say they knew nothing about my field, since they were used to the stereotypical lawyer and doctor career. Now that I am in a role with the city of Detroit, they see proof and change in what I’m doing with local press and news outlets. I think they get it now, and I was fortunate to find a niche in the community, along with being the first immigrant affairs director, staying true to what I believe and what I’m destined to do in my journey. It’s great the community can see where I am now, but if they read my resume and saw the between moments that may not read as “perfect”, then they understand that I am just like anybody else, who has experienced good and not so happy moments at the same time.
Q: Would you rather attend a Michigan State vs. Michigan basketball game or football game?
A: I like football and basketball; however, I would rather go to a Michigan vs. Michigan football game. Being in the stadium of Michigan, also known as “The Big House”, is definitely an experience. Michigan school pride is a sight to see, as the community is proud of what it means and what it represents to the people. It’s one of the best experiences to have and proud moments to witness, whether you’re an alumni or just enjoying the game.
Q: According to your twitter profile, you are a #RunningAddict! Will you be running wild in the annual Run Wild for the Detroit Zoo on Sunday September 11, 2016?
A: I didn’t know this event was going on, but now that I know, I will look into it. Typically, I run 5k or 10k races if I am not running a marathon. This year, I signed up for the Chicago Marathon that’s happening in the fall. I am coming up on my fifth marathon, and it’s the energy that keeps me going. If you’ve ever heard of “runner’s high”, then you know it’s real. It’s something about the discipline and challenge that makes the sport addicting. It takes you back as a kid and gives you something to strive for. When you push yourself, it’s nostalgic in a way, because you’re rewarding yourself, which is something we often forget about as adults.
Q: What’s your favorite running shoe?
A: Although the Adidas and Nikes are the go-to classic running shoe, I’m a Brooks girl, at heart. I love the consistency of the shoe for my lifestyle and the way I feel every time I run. I guess you can say I’m a loyal fan of the brand.
Q: What’s the best meal or snack after you’re done running?
A: Well, I’m a health nut. I used to be a vegetarian about ten years ago; however, as I started running, I realized my body needed more nutrients. I try to live a healthy and active lifestyle, all the time; however, it can be hard. My dad owns a meat market that’s definitely an influence, depending on the day. Now that there are restaurants offering more variety in cuisine, it definitely helps with my go-to options, like egg white omelets.
Q: What music artists are you listening to while you run?
A: Well, my guilty pleasure, I must admit, is pop music. My number one motivational song is “man in the mirror”, by Michael Jackson. It’s a reminder for me to break away, make change and just go for it! That song will always be my favorite, as it reminds me to have perspective, no matter what I am trying to accomplish.
Impact Your Community
Q: On your resume, it states you speak English, French, and Arabic, which is amazing. Do you plan to add any other languages to your repertoire?
A: Recently, I downloaded a French podcast to practice the language. Lately, I’ve been okay, but I’m trying to get back into the swings of things. My Arabic is good, as I practice the language by switching my mobile keyboard from English to Arabic. Eventually, I would like to learn Spanish, since I love to travel. Being diverse and knowing a little about everything keeps me inspired and intrigued to do more.
Q: You have done work for the National Network for Arab American Communities as the Civic Engagement coordinator. This year is a presidential election year. Can you talk about the importance of voting and have you seen a rise in Arab-American voters?
A: It’s tough, because immigrant communities don’t tend to vote. I think there’s still a lot of work that must be done to inform the existing immigrant communities on their rights, along with making “politics” a comfortable subject. I’m a democrat, and I’m proud to say I am part of this political party, because it’s my belief. It does not matter what political affiliation you are, as long as you’re informed about the issues in the community. Recently, I hosted a training that addressed the misconceptions of voting and how to track your impact within the Muslim community. This training showed the community they were valuable and what it takes to be a part of change. From this experience and past events, I’ve learned to work in teams to collaborate on events, trainings and seminars. I’m fortunate to have a young lady, who is my rock, by my side in the office; however, if wasn’t for the help of partnerships and volunteers, then we could not be able to make a big impact that’s measurable for the growth of our city.
Q: Your parents arrived from Lebanon in the 1970’s, and your father has owned Saad Wholesale Meats in Eastern Market for 40 years. How have they affected your life and what is the best advice they have given to you?
A: They directly affected me and who I am today. I probably would not be in the position I am today if it wasn’t for them. I want to encourage more immigrants to open a business or assume leadership roles. My mom raised six children and came to the United States, not knowing any English. My parents’ success is my success. We are a tight knit family and I thank my parents for being supportive of the career path I chose.
Q: With all of our interviews, we like to sign off with by saying thank you! We know that you’re trending, which is why we chose you to be one of our featured guests. In honor of our tradition, we would like you to finish this sentence...I am Fayrouz Saad, Detroit’s Immigrant Affairs Director, I’m trending because…
A: I’m trending because what I do for my job is impactful. The stories I live for are young women making a difference in their communities and climbing the ladder. These stories empower me to aspire, reach success and recognize others who have dreams like I do.