Reena Paracha is most definitely an educator, but she’s not a typical teacher. She educates people about Islam and welcomes any questions and frank speak about the subject. She has brought many invigorating and thought-provoking speakers to Louisville as part of the annual Festival of Faiths, all because she knows that educating people about Islam will break down the walls of fear and bigotry that surround it. Lately, she has become very hands-on with her work, aiding the multitudes of refugees who are coming to Louisville by helping them settle into our community. When she’s not busy helping others, she’s got her hands full with her four school-age children and all of their activities. We caught up with Reena at the Center for Interfaith Relations downtown and later at the Muslim Community Center of Louisville, where we got to see firsthand all of the community efforts with which she is involved. Welcome Reena as today’s FACE of Louisville!
Tell us about the work you are doing with the refugee community here in Louisville.
First of all I would like to say that it’s not my work at all. The entire Louisville community is proactive. From clothes drives to food drives to helping the refugees acclimate to American society, everyone is doing their share.
You have a strong background with the interfaith community here in Louisville. Tell us about the importance and impact that this group has made in our city.
In all honesty, it is because of interfaith work that we have not encountered the hate and bigotry other American Muslim communities are facing right now. When the River Road mosque was vandalized, 1,000 people of different faiths and backgrounds showed up to clean up. There was a kind of unity among different communities the likes of which other communities have not had the pleasure to taste. Louisville has set the bar very high for other communities. That’s not an exaggeration at all.
You are a Muslim in a time where there is much fear and misunderstanding of Islam. What can we do to educate our society and clear up misconceptions?
One of the most frustrating thing for Muslims is that everyone is talking about our religion, but no one is listening to what Muslims have to say. I would rather someone come and ask a terribly bigoted question to my face and I answer it intelligently than to have a young girl attacked in school, her hijab pulled off because the media and politicians are only talking about us in the context of terrorism. Ask a Muslim. Have coffee with a Muslim. Befriend a Muslim. You will be pleasantly surprised — we are just as compassionate, loving, kind and peaceful as everyone else.
What can Louisvillians do at the present time to help the refugee community? Where can they start?
Believe it or not, Louisville is very accepting of refugees. There are many programs already in place, Catholic Charities and the Americana Community Center being two very prominent ones. The local mosques have done clothes and furniture drives. There are young adults who are helping the refugees transition and settle in Louisville by teaching them English. The Americana Center is a great organization for the refugee communities. Ninety percent of the youth enrolled in their summer program were refugees. They have mental health counseling, adult education programs, after-school programs, etc. So if there is someone interested in helping out, please do reach out to the center. They are always in need of volunteers.
Give us a peek at your agenda. What’s a typical day or week like for you?
Well I just recently decided that I am going to learn a new language, and for me that is Arabic. That takes up about four hours of my morning. After that I show up wherever I am needed. Sometimes it’s just a distressed person on the phone, and other times I may have to go out and meet them. After that it’s the usual — children, husband, some socialization on the weekends.
What advice do you treasure?
One of the best pieces of advice I have received and cherish in recent years is “Be unapologetically Muslim!”
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my _________.
Some book or another.
Where can we find you hanging out around town?
A bookstore or coffee shop probably. I love sitting in coffee shops in the Highlands because you can truly witness the melting pot that America is over there.
Are you a night owl or early bird? What do you do during that quiet time?
Night owl for sure! That is the time I revisit my day — think about more ways to reach and teach people and plan my next course of action.
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles. It’s incredibly relevant to our time even though it’s set in 1922 Russia.
Lightning round! Give us your:
Candy or junk food splurge: Dark chocolate truffles
Guilty pleasure song: Anything Beyoncé
Tearjerker movie pick: Schindler’s List
Standby nail polish color: OPI It’s in the Cloud
Favorite cocktail: Yerba Mate Mint Lemonade
Cartoon alter-ego: She-Ra!
What are three of your favorite things right now excluding faith, family and friends?
- Community building
- Political and social advocacy
Interested in helping out with local refugees? Contact the Americana Community Center here to learn about volunteer opportunities.
Thank you to Adele Reding Photography for the beautiful pictures take at the Interfaith Center.
Read about more inspiring women in Louisville in our FACES of Louisville weekly features here.