As our StyleBlueprint FACES series strives each week to showcase inspiring women from all facets of Nashville, we are delighted to highlight Kasar Abdulla today, a woman who has dedicated her life to bringing awareness to the suffering of others. She is an influential member of numerous organizations including Nashville’s YWCA and Kurdish Women for Better Health. Honored by President Barack Obama as a Champion of Change in 2013, she remains humble, soft-spoken and deeply sincere. As the director of family engagement at Valor Collegiate Academies, Kasar brings academic excellence to South Nashville, one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods. Learn how this determined young woman is changing the way we engage with our community on a local and global level.
Where are you from, originally?
I am from Kurdistan, which is indicated on the map as part of northern Iraq. I was born there but in 1988, when I was about 6 years old, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein waged a genocidal war against the Kurdish people. We left by foot to the neighboring country of Turkey, the Kurdish part. It took us three days and nights to cross the mountains. My family and I remained there until September 1992, when we were brought to North Dakota, so the early years of my childhood were spent in a refugee camp.
How did you end up in Nashville?
In 1992, our family was selected through the American Refugee Committee to come to the United States. We were settled in Fargo, North Dakota, by our sponsors from the Lutheran Social Services. At first we were culturally shocked and faced many obstacles to integration. It was especially difficult for my parents to integrate and find work. When my parents learned of Nashville, they visited and fell in love. The mountainous valleys reminded us of Kurdistan, and because it was an agricultural state, my parents could grow figs and pomegranates. We aligned with the values here and appreciated the friendly neighbors and sense of community. To us, Nashville is the Little Kurdistan.
You are also a member of the YWCA. Why is this organization important to you?
Domestic violence is not only a local epidemic but a global one. I have benefited from the labor of women before me, but there is more work to be done to better the lives of women. In Tennessee, gun violence is becoming more of an issue and, truthfully, there is a mental crisis happening in our community that needs to be addressed. Often, it’s the women who are paying the price. Sometimes I think about what is in the media and it’s so saddening — a constant feed about violence and women as subhuman in our society. What is unique about our YWCA is that we don’t just serve as a crisis center for women of domestic violence but we also take a very proactive role in engaging men in the conversation though the MEND program. It takes both men and women working effectively together to end this epidemic.
You are currently director of family engagement at Valor Collegiate Academies. Can you tell us more about Valor and describe your role there?
Valor is a network of free public charter schools for middle and high school students. It’s located in the heart of an international community in South Nashville and is very diverse, not just in terms of race, ethnicity or religion, but also socioeconomically. My role is to inform families about their schooling options and to give them opportunities to participate in organized tours, information sessions and shadow days. My goal is to make sure Valor’s student body is reflective of the diversity of South Nashville. I hope to redefine family engagement, to make it possible for the local community to be a part of the institution that transforms the child’s life.
What’s been the most rewarding part of that experience?
It has been amazing to see what an institution like Valor can do. It strengthens communities across divides by bringing new perspectives together. Our students, whom we call scholars, are brilliant. Their curiosity and questioning is remarkable. Valor has become an educational platform that is consistently challenging scholars academically, socially and emotionally. Valor is shaping future citizens to live purposeful lives by making sure they have the tools to apply their knowledge in a global society. Our biggest challenge was and still remains “How can we grow all types of students to be global thinkers and change-makers of their time?”
What is the mission of The American Muslim Advisory Council (AMAC)?
In 2011, I, along with other leaders, created AMAC to facilitate dialogue between the local Muslims and the non-Muslims … AMAC also introduces Tennessee Muslims to public policy makers. It’s amazing to witness state officials meeting so many Muslims who are working professionals in their community and even in their district. AMAC seeks to educate and engage law enforcement agencies to better understand the Muslim community and to build a mutual trust between these parties. Muslims are often the victims of terrorism but most people don’t realize that. AMAC brings awareness to that misconception. No matter how big of an issue we face as an American Muslim community, we must stand up in a positive way. It’s natural for non-Muslims to be curious about our religion. By making our mosques or institutions open and educational, we can create opportunities for dialogue.
How do you relax and unwind?
One of the things that re-energizes me is meditation and prayer. I do that several times throughout my day. I also love hiking and biking; it helps me regroup. My children have a lot to do with how I wind down. Coming home and getting hugs from them makes everything I do feel worth it. I want their generation to have different challenges than the ones we face and I remind myself of that each day.
Where are your favorite places to eat in Nashville?
We mostly love home cooking, and we cook things from all different cultures. My husband loves Italian food and he makes a great tiramisu. We love to explore new cuisine, so we are excited by all of the ethnic food options in Nashville. A few of our favorites are The Wild Cow, Maggiano’s, Shalimar and House of Kabob, which is where my husband and I met.
What books are on your bedside table?
Right now I am reading the A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. When it comes to books, I am more into non-fiction but I have always been an avid reader. When I got married and sent my husband to my father’s house to pick up my things, he said everywhere he looked there were books and books and more books. My father and husband said, “Most girls have shoes and purses but you’ve spent all your money on books.” My response was, “Yes, for books have the ability to change the world inside you!”
Name three things you can’t live without excluding faith, family and friends.
That’s tough, you’ve named the three already! I love and enjoy seeking knowledge or reading, fruits and nuts, and prayer and meditation.
Thank you to Ashley Hylbert for today’s beautiful photographs. See more of her work on her website — click here.
There are so many inspiring women in Nashville. Read all about them in our FACES section — click here.