We had the good fortune of connecting with Sara Bawany and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sara, what are you inspired by?
I am inspired by positive and courageous changemakers, by those who can put nearly everything on the line to speak truth to power and to do the difficult work of creating culture change in our communities. That may come about through art, poetry, activism, organizational development, public speaking, or any number of ways. I truly believe that each of us has the capacity to create meaningful change and in the work I do, as well as the poetry I write, I see people trying every day, no matter how small or insignificant they are told their voices are. I am further inspired by those who are self-aware and recognize their privilege in being able to have the kind of impact that is needed, and are willing to put their reputations and selves on the line to do what is right, hold people accountable, and use their voice and power for good, whether on a large scale or within their own circles.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I received my Master’s Degree in Social Work at the age of 22 after completing 2 Bachelor’s degrees. Graduate school was an incredibly difficult time as I was grappling with the sudden shift in my career that I had still not fully processed, along with being the youngest in the program, one of very few people of color, and someone with very little background or experience in this field. I got into social work because of my own personal experience with domestic violence and mental health and wanted to be “the therapist I needed growing up.” After graduating, I worked in a nonprofit where I provided free therapy services and did public speaking on mental health, foster parenting, and domestic violence in a variety of settings in the Muslim community. Around this time, I also self-published my first poetry book: “(w)holehearted: a collection of poetry and prose” after years of sharing my work online. To this day, it has sold over 1,000 copies and has won an award, and it catapulted me into a different space in my writing, one which I am currently cultivating and hoping to use to publish my second book one day. I have been exploring and experimenting more with spoken word poetry and have been doing numerous different exercises to connect my creativity with my spirituality. You can find my full portfolio and a link to my freelance editing services at www.sarabawany.com. More recently, I began working at a cutting-edge nonprofit called FACE (Facing Abuse in Community Environments) which investigates allegations of abuse at the hands of religious and community leaders within the Muslim community, publishing the substantiated findings and working to create culture change and impact within our communities and how we handle abuse at the highest level of power and leadership. I never saw myself ending up here in my career but I am so thankful and blessed that I did, as I work with an incredible group of thought leaders and visionaries who have expanded my idea of activism, justice, and power-building. This work more than anything has taught me what it really means to center victims and survivors and understand the intricate dynamics of abuse of power within an already marginalized and targeted community. Every day, I see how needed it is as we receive an overwhelming amount of allegations of abuse and publish a report at the end of months and months of painstaking investigations. You can find more of our work on www.facetogether.org. Lastly, I am part of a wonderful networking group called MAPS (Muslim Association for Psychological Services) which is a social enterprise and collective of licensed Muslim therapists in the DFW area who have not only created a database for the Muslim community to access when searching for Muslim therapists but have also created a tight-knit and supportive network of therapists to lean on each other, utilize peer-to-peer consultations, and have referrals at the tip of their fingers as more members from the Muslim community are seeking therapy and are more comfortable with someone who understands their background. I recently designed their new website www.mapsnetwork.org and am working to expand and open up a chapter in Austin after volunteering with the main Dallas chapter for a number of years. I am so excited to see how this model will connect Muslim therapists in different localities and make their services more accessible to community members.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Although I recently moved back to Austin, I do consider Dallas my home, so here goes! The food in Dallas is incredible – especially if you specifically seek out Halal options! I’d say Noodle Wave is always a winner: it’s a halal Thai restaurant that has been a community favorite for years. Legacy Hall in the West Plano area is a spacious food court and has a variety of unique options to choose from. Eataly in Northpark is a new favorite; it’s a fancy grocery store with restaurants inside with authentic and delicious Italian food, and they even have Gluten-free options! After visiting the Chicago location, I am so excited for it to open up here in Dallas! Lastly, I’d always recommend going to the geodeck of Reunion Tower in downtown Dallas with a 360 view of the city. The Dallas skyline was voted as the “best international skyline” in 2014 and it shows!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
God of course, first and foremost, for giving me the opportunity to find my voice and use it as best as I can to be in service to my community and for creating me in such a way where I am always unsatisfied with the status quo. My mother, for being both a mom and friend and someone I could always lean on every time I struggled with my self-worth and whether I was good enough. My co-worker and boss Alia of FACE (Facing Abuse in Community Environments), for placing an immense amount of trust on me and teaching me every day to step into my power. My husband Usama, for always adding humor and laughter into my life during the times I need it the most. All the therapists I have had over the years, even now when I am one myself, who have continued to validate me, nudge me in the right direction, hear my darkest thoughts about myself, and help me break them down, one by one. My colleagues and peers at MAPS (Muslim Association for Psychological Services) for welcoming me into the space to eagerly shoot out all my ideas and for truly making me feel valuable in the Muslim therapist community. All my writer and poet friends over the years who pushed me to share my work and to eventually publish my first poetry collection and who are helping me slowly compile a second. The list could go on and on but I would be nowhere without the support of all of these individuals and more.
Humza Ahmed @thehumzaahmed and Aleena Ahmer: @photographeena