One Illinois native is breaking barriers as the youngest Pakistani Muslim elected official in the United States at just 23-years-old.
Bushra Amiwala of Skokie, Illinois sits on the Skokie School Board of Education in the Chicago area. Most recently she received the Asian American Coalition of Chicago (AACC) award for exemplary community service and youth excellence on February 20.
Amiwala said she hopes to use her experience to highlight the importance of representation in politics. At just 19-years-old, Amiwala got her start in politics when she ran for the Cook County Board of Commissioners. She made headlines across the country, but she felt the need to prove herself.
“People pay attention more to my identity than they do my politics or my policy ideas. So people talk a lot more about what I look like, what I dress like,” she said.
Amiwala’s identities set her apart from many other politicians. She’s young, she’s a woman and she’s a Muslim American.
“I feel like there is a lot of pressure that comes with that, so that’s something that has been the most challenging part,” she said.
Although she lost her first election. She ran for the Skokie School Board of Education at age 21 and was elected. This made for a moment that made history.
“Someone else brought it to my attention like by the way, you’re the youngest of our community that has come to this point and at this level,” she said.
She said she’s using her story and experience to encourage others.
“The amount of people that have seen my journey as a catalyst to do the same type of work themselves. Whether it be to run for public office, whether it be to be more civically engaged,” she said.
And knowing she is inspiring others makes the job worth it for Amiwala.
“Any one of those instances has been the most rewarding part,” she said.
For those striving for their next steps, both young and old, she said to not be afraid to ask for help.
“Go find great mentors, and never burn a bridge because you never know when you will have to cross it again,” she said.
Amiwala has a busy year ahead. She is premiering in an ABC Hulu Documentary: Our America: Women Forward on March 13th and continues to use her platform to spark nation-wide action on diversity and inclusion initiatives, youth empowerment, and women in politics. She is also currently writing a book to share her experiences as a young female politician.