Heleema Bharoocha, ’18 is on People’s list of 25 Under 25: Women of Color to Watch! She was also recently featured in the Seattle University magazine. She works at Alliance for Girls as Advocacy Director. Seattle University’s GOLD Council is honored to have her as an alumna and to be able to feature her as our Spotlight forfall 2021. We sat down for a Q&A to learn more about Haleema and the work she is doing.
Q: You made the People’s list of 25 Under 25: Women of Color to Watch - big congrats! What are some of the projects or initiatives you are working on that we should be watching?
Haleema: Not One More Girl is a unique youth-driven initiative seeking to address sexual harassment on public transportation on the fifth largest transit system in the country. Together with community partners, artists, cultural strategists and youth leaders, we have made both policy and cultural changes to enhance safety for girls* and gender expansive youth. Some of these changes include tracking sexual harassment occurrences through data collection, offering non-police resources for survivors and a youth friendly campaign calling out sexual harassment. It is quickly becoming a model for other transit agencies in the country. Learn more at Bart.gov/notonemoregirl
*Girls: Gender-expansive youth (cis girls, trans girls, non-binary youth, gender non-conforming youth, gender queer youth and any girl-identified youth).
Q:You are such a well-rounded individual with tremendous skill sets. What motivates you?
Haleema: I really enjoy community engagement work. Building relationships with the community is the core of organizing and advocacy. I love having one-on-ones with people and getting to know their story.
Q: Who is someone you look up to that you feel has helped you better understand the impact you want to have on the world?
Haleema: I look to my mom who has always shown compassion and care even in the face of injustice and violence. As a youth growing up post 9/11, I saw her face many hate-based Islamophobic incidents and she always remained calm and did not allow these to ever take away from her own empathy for others. She has taught me how to ground myself in community care and to stay true to my values even during turbulent times.
Q:Alliance for Girls is a spectacular organization - I am sure you have many visions for it. Is there one you would like to share with the GOLD audience?
Haleema: Alliance for Girls is the nation’s largest association of girl-serving organizations with 180 members in the Bay Area that serve 300,000 girls and gender expansive youth annually. Our network brings together a critical sector of organization that serve our most impacted youth; they are a lifeline to many girls and gender expansive youth. We facilitate collective advocacy to meet the expressed needs of girls and gender expansive youth, coordinate youth led research on girls’ needs, host trainings on promising practices and organize members meetings and conferences to foster collaboration. In my biggest visions, an Alliance for Girls would exist in every state and country in the world. Our alliance model supports many girls’ organizations and brings together girls champions who often have shared goals.
Q: How has COVID-19 positively and/or negatively impacted you and what you've been working hard to build?
Haleema: COVID19 has hit all of our communities hard. One of the things it spurred was the urgency for gender equity action as the pandemic exacerbated pre-existing gender-based issues such as domestic violence and economic security. I began working with Bay Area advocates to propose solutions to close the widening gaps. We advocated to address things such as period poverty and financial support for young moms. The pandemic will have long term effects, especially on communities already impacted by preexisting inequities. As we reopen and talk about recovery, I’ll be pushing for gender equity to be at the core of these policies.
Q: What is your fondest memory of SeattleU? Did you have a favorite professor or class?
Haleema: One of my fondest memories at Seattle University is organizing to start the gender justice center with fellow students and with support from the administration. It was an incredible experience that set a strong foundation for my career today. I also really enjoyed my sociology classes which gave me the tools and language to understand systems of oppression as well as dream about utopian futures.
Q:Is there a country that you have been to and you love? Or is there a place in the world that you hope to go to one day and why?
Haleema: I love Turkey and it’s a place I hope to visit again. The people, food, art and culture filled me with joy. I loved the fresh pomegranate juice vendors that line the streets and beautiful architecture there. The people were very welcoming and kind as well.