Salima Suswell, of Germantown, is seen here with Gov. Tom Wolf, who appointed her to be the first Muslim ever on the Pennsylvania Commission for Women. (The photo was taken before social distancing.) …
by Len Lear
Salima Suswell, 41, grew up in a Muslim family in Southwest Philadelphia, but she has been a Germantown resident for the last five years and an entrepreneur. She is President and CEO of Evolve Solutions, LLC, a management consulting firm she founded in 2009. She is also the first Muslim woman appointed to the Pennsylvania Commission for Women, having been appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2017. Since she is a “first,” we decided to find out more about her background and her views on contemporary issues:
What was your education beyond Overbrook High School?
“An Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies and a B.A. in Business Administration from Drexel University.”
Were you surprised to be selected for membership on the Penna. Commission for Women?
“I was certainly beyond excited, as this history-making, prestigious appointment by Gov. Tom Wolf to the Pennsylvania Commission for Women is an honor which I value tremendously.”
Did you have to be nominated by someone?
“I believe I was considered upon my work with the Wolf administration over the years as an advisor for matters relating to Muslim Pennsylvanians and work on the annual Eid al Adha Dinner at the Governor’s residence in Harrisburg.”
What is it that you do on the Commission?
“The Pennsylvania Commission for Women serves as advisors to the Governor on legislative policy which impacts women and girls. We also support the initiatives of other organizations and institutions that serve women and girls. I have served as a surrogate on behalf of the Governor, offering remarks on his behalf at women’s events in the Philadelphia region.”
Do you know how many Muslim elected officials there are in Pennsylvania?
“Pennsylvania, I believe, is the only state in our nation that has elected eight Black Muslim politicians. That is not an easy feat in a GOP-controlled swing state. Every level of government in this city and state has representation of an American Muslim who is active in the local Muslim community. State Sen. Sharif Street is the vice-chair (second in command) of the PA Democratic Party, for example.”
Have you been active in the Muslim community?
“I have done many activities with my Muslim sisters and brothers across the nation, near and far, from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco to Guinea, Senegal, the Caribbean Islands and more. We must be making sure the right citizens get the message and build bridges with like-minded folks. It’s happening but at a snail's pace, and it needs to be expedited. May we continue to resist any and all manifestations of bigotry and hate, which threaten our worthy aspirations and divide us as a community and nation.”
What was the hardest thing you ever had to do in your life?
“I always say that being a parent and shaping the life of another human being is by far the hardest job that I will ever have in life.”
What is the best advice you ever received?
“That good conduct, good manners and a gracious personality go a long way.”
How long have you been a Muslim?
“I was born and raised under the faith of Islam. I have been a Muslim for all 41 years of my life.”
What is it about Islam that most American non-Muslims are not aware of or misunderstand about Islam?
“That Islam is a beautiful religion based upon peace.”
If you could live anywhere on earth, where would it be and why?
“Africa. I spent three weeks in Africa with my Senegalese husband at the beginning of the year, and I absolutely fell in love with Dakar, Senegal. It is the most beautiful and peaceful country I have ever visited. The people, the food and the culture were all phenomenal!”
If you could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, living or dead, who would it be?
“If I had three, it would be the holy Prophet Muhammad’s first wife Khadijah, Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey.”
Any family members you would like to mention, please do.
“My 23-year-old daughter, Laila, is the absolute apple of my eye, and she has been the strongest motivation in my adult life.”
How has the current stay-at-home order affected your life?
“It has caused me to develop alternatives for approaching community engagement and the offering of supportive services to the communities I serve, particularly under my non-profit organization, the Philadelphia Ramadan & Eid Fund, as it is currently Ramadan and Eid season. Muslims who observe Ramadan and Eid look forward to communal gatherings and charitable meal offerings, which is of utmost importance during Ramadan. This year, due to Coronavirus quarantine and social distancing mandates, our organization cancelled its annual festival and events and instead has been distributing fresh produce, Halal meats and Eid baskets to families observing Ramadan across the region.”
Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com