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Arab America Foundation Announces 20 Under 20 Awardees

posted on: Dec 7, 2020

For Immediate Release

Washington DC (December 7, 2020): The Arab America Foundation announced today the awardees of their 20 Under 20 in 2020 initiative. Twenty Arab Americans from more than 9 states were announced from a pool of close to 50 applications. Five judges from different states reviewed the applications anonymously (without identification of name or ethnicity).

The awardees are: Rayan Akhdar, Salsabeel Al-Silwi, Taqwa Almasmari, Hamza Alsamraee, Jana Amin, Jad Fakhoury, Issa Hosari, Emily Ibrahim, Ahmad Ibsais, Karim Kadouh, Nour Khalifa, Elias Khawam, Mariam Odeh, Janna Ramadan, Rawan Saleh, Laila Shadid, Nadeen Sobh, Karla Stephan, Maya Taha, and Jenna Yasin.

20 Under 20 in 2020 is a celebration of accomplished young Arab Americans. The program spotlights students (16–20 years old) who achieved spectacular success in academics, work/internships, community service, extracurricular activities (such as clubs, sports, music, arts, and writing). Also, we acknowledge achievements demonstrating, but not limited to, outstanding leadership, dedication to a career path, new initiatives, and commitment to Arab American heritage and culture.

“We recognize 20 outstanding young Arab Americans in this initiative,” said Warren David, co-founder of the Arab America Foundation and president of Arab America.  He went on to say, “It gives me hope to see Arab Americans in Generation Z proudly promoting their Arab heritage and making their voices heard. One day, I look forward to seeing all the awardees in leadership positions, representing future generations in our global society.”

The awardees are under the age of 20, excel in their studies, work actively in their communities to help their peers, and demonstrate a commitment to their Arab heritage. The competition was open to all students who live and/or work in the United States and are of Arab descent. All awardees have shown remarkable leadership in their academics and in their extracurricular activities. They have exemplified what it means to be an Arab American in an increasingly multinational world. 

The Arab America Foundation and its board are grateful for the leadership of the initiative’s coordinators, Nabelah Ghareeb and Samar Sakakini, as well as the prestigious panel of judges.

The 20 Under 20 awardees for the class of 2020 will be honored at an event on Thursday, December 10, 2020, from 7-8:00 pm ET, followed by a networker 8:00-8:30 pm.

About the Arab America Foundation

The Arab America Foundation (AAF) is a non-profit (501c3) educational and cultural organization. The mission of the AAF is to Promote the Arab heritage and empower Arab Americans; Educate Americans about the Arab identity and culture, and to Connect Arab Americans to each other and to other communities.

To register for the Rising Leaders Event on Thursday, December 10 at 7:00 pm ET, Click Here

For more information about the 20 Under 20 initiative click here.

For more information about the Arab America Foundation, click here.

For media inquiries, contact Lindsey Penn here.

The 20 Under 20 Awardees, Class of 2020

Rayan Akhdar

Rayan Akhdar’s family originated from Beirut, Lebanon, and moved to the USA in 2001. She is 17 years old and is very involved in her community, having been on the softball team, robotics team, band, and student government at her school. Akhdar participated in a mother tongue language event at her school. Also, she is in the national honors society and is part of the leadership development program for a deaf and hard hearing camp ran by the Lions and Bear Lake Club. She has played 3 instruments: the baritone, the guitar, and the tuba. Akhdar speaks 2 languages fluently (Arabic and English) and has been learning Chinese, Russian, German, and Sign Language.

Salsabeel Al-Silwi

Salsabeel Al-Silwi is currently a first-year at Barnard College of Columbia University. She aspires to become a medical professional. Al-Silwi is very involved in her community and has been a Bronx Muslims Center and MAS youth volunteer for many years. She is a founder at the Teens Initiative Program and Mentorship Program, both at the Collegiate Institute for Math and Science. She mentors young girls in need of academic and spiritual guidance within the Bronx and Yonkers Arab community. Al-Silwi was Vice President of Young Women’s Leadership for three consecutive years, member of Student Council, and member of Montefiore Youth Council. She was awarded the Young Women’s Leadership Award and Yankees Youth Leadership Award.

Taqwa Almasmari

Taqwa Almasmari is 18 years old and a Sophomore attending Wayne State University. She plans to major in Nutrition and Food Sciences and minor in Arabic studies on the pre-med track. As the daughter of Yemeni- American, immigrant parents, she values her right to education and was her high school’s valedictorian. Almasmari competed in the Muslim Interscholastic Tournament twice and won first place both years. She also competed in Quiz Bowl, in which her team won first place as well. She has volunteered at the Michigan Science Center with the 1001 Inventions exhibit, which raised awareness of the creative contributions that Muslim civilizations have brought to society. Almasmari is an active member of her university’s Yemeni Student Association and the National Arab American Medical Association.

Hamza Alsamraee

Hamza Alsamraee is a current gap year student pursuing the intersection of technology and education. He is the admin of the largest mathematics page on the social media platform Instagram, @daily_math_, which has over 90,000 followers coming from more than 140 countries. He is the author of two #1 Amazon bestselling books which have sold 5000+ copies combined as of today: Advanced Calculus Explored and Paradoxes, the latter of which gained the praise of two New York Times bestselling authors and other renowned mathematics communicators. For these efforts, he was featured in a viral interview by Al-Hurra TV and most recently the documentary “Iraq’s Einstein,” which aired on Al-Sharqiya TV.  In high school, he was the founder of his school’s science team, an involved member of his school’s Muslim Student Association, and a two-sport varsity athlete. In his free time, he reads philosophy, lifts weights, and plays chess.

Jana Amin

Jana Amin is an Egyptian-American senior in high school. An active leader in the Arab-American community, Amin seeks to bridge Arab and American culture. She has a passion for international relations, Middle Eastern studies, and gender studies. An avid speaker, she gave a TEDx talk and competes nationally on her school’s speech team. She recently spoke on a United Nations panel about policies to further gender parity. Amin also works closely with The Collateral Repair Project, a Jordanian NGO supporting refugee women and girls. Amidst the pandemic, she hosted a virtual event, #17for17: Advocating for Girls’ Education. She researched and curated an exhibit at the American University in Cairo titled “Princess Fawzia and the Duality of Egyptian Women”. She is currently interning at the Harvard Kennedy School. Amin is one of the founders and podcasters of UnTextbooked. She competes on her school’s squash varsity team and plays the harp.

Jad Fakhoury

Jad Fakhoury is a freshman at the University of Michigan –Ann Arbor. He comes from a Jordanian and Palestinian background and holds an immense sense of pride and dignity in that background. In high school, he was awarded the National Honor Society Highest Academic Achievement in 2018, 2019, and 2020, completing 170+ hours of community service in his time in the honors society by tutoring refugee students with Arabic or Spanish language barriers. Mr. Fakhoury graduated as Valedictorian of Avondale High School in 2020 and is currently pursuing a BS in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience in hopes of attending medical school and, one day, becoming a physician. He is active in the Rochester/Auburn Hills Community Coalition Youth Action Council, an organization dedicated to spreading information to local schools about mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, and healthy lifestyle choices. In addition to taking strong pride in his background and academics, he is also passionate about his Orthodox Christian Faith and serving his greater community through diligent acts of kindness and love.

Issa Hosari

Issa Hosari is a Palestinian American who currently lives in Livonia, Michigan. He is a senior in high school and participates in various clubs in his school. He is an advocate for his Arab American heritage that is shown through his dedication and work within the Arab America Foundation. He is the youngest member of the Arab America Foundation, joining at the age of 14, and later becoming their youngest intern. Hosari is very determined and is a leader within multiple organizations within his community, such as the Secretary of the North American Society of Orthodox Youth, DECA president, Spanish National Honor Society President, and Senior Class Secretary. He is passionate about helping others, which is evident through his volunteerism around the metro-Detroit area, helping multiple organizations from handing out food to making PPE for front line workers.

Emily Ibrahim

Emily Ibrahim is a member of the National Honors Society and Mu Alpha Theta (a math honors society). She is involved in Model United Nations and Student Council, as well as being Vice President of her school’s Key Club. Ibrahim also competed in the West Asian Cup in Bahrain with the U18 Palestinian National soccer team, winning MVP and becoming the first Palestinian to do so at a FIFA tournament. She worked with the Palestinian American Athletic Association, raising money for refugee camps in Palestine and buying them school supplies. Her future plan is to run a non-profit organization connecting children in underdeveloped/war-torn nations with the game of soccer. The primary purpose of this would be to empower these children and be a catalyst for opposition against the corrupt institutions implemented in society.

Ahmad Ibsais

Ahmad Ibsais is a sophomore at the University of Florida studying Sociology and International Affairs with a minor in Economics. He is a proud Palestinian-American Muslim whose background has led to a sense of justice, community organizing, and human rights. At his school, he is an Undergraduate Research Assistant for the College of Medicine and is a Teaching Assistant for Biology I and II. He launched the “Just Say Hello- Homeless are Humans too” campaign to help community members realize that the homeless population should not be forgotten. Ibsais was a part of the group that established Soldiers to Civilians, a group that connects veterans to local community members to help with their transitions home, and treatment, years after service. The projects won first and third place, respectively, internationally at the Community Service Problem Solvers conference. He is co-Global Outreach Director at Zero Hour, the largest international youth-led movement centering diverse voices on environmental justice.

Karim Kadouh

Karim Kadouh is a 16-year-old from Dearborn, Michigan, and a first-generation Lebanese American. In addition to being a full-time junior and National Honors Society member at Dearborn High School, Kadouh holds several positions where he contributes as an outstanding member of his community. He serves as one of thirteen representatives from six states on FEMA’s Region 5 Youth Preparedness Council, Executive Program Director of non-profit Books for a Benefit, and Director of Operations for The Custard Company. Kadouh also volunteers his time to improve the learning experience for his fellow students as a sitting member of the Dearborn Public Schools COVID Reopening Committee, as well as improve English fluency as a volunteer in the “Sahbi” literacy program. Passionate about young voices in leadership, Kadouh has also served as Congressional Intern for Michigan District 12 and founder of the Islamic Center of America Youth Committee.

Nour Khalifa

Nour Khalifa is a Junior at the Atlanta Girls’ School. She is passionate about making a difference and overcoming her fear of being too small to help a great cause. Khalifa is deeply involved in social justice, equity, and political reform. She helped establish “The Laurel Leaf”, her high school’s first student-led newspaper. She attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in 2018 and will attend again as a lead peer facilitator in 2020. Khalifa is a 2021 Civics Unplugged Fellow, Governor’s Honors Program nominee, and NSHSS Scholar. She plays varsity soccer, cross country, and basketball, and plays the violin for the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra. She is a member of her school’s Committee for Social Justice and Equity. She commits herself to foster peace and understanding between people. Her awareness of her identity as a leader in the Arab American community is what motivates her to continuously improve.

Elias Khawam

Elias Khawam is a first-generation Lebanese, a son of two immigrants from Lebanon. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He is currently finishing up his studies as a Pre-Dental student at Cleveland State University. Khawam holds positions on the leadership board of multiple organizations such as serving as the President of the Pre-Dental Society, President of the Arab Student Union, and President of the Lebanese Student Organization. Also, he is an Ohio Field Organizer for the Arab American Institute. He is an outspoken advocate for human rights in the Middle East and domestically, which continues to inspire his passion for humanitarian work in underserved and impoverished populations and communities.

Mariam Odeh

Mariam Odeh is a Palestinian American. She is currently a freshman at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor on a pre-medical track pursuing a degree in International Studies. She is the recipient of the Brehm Scholarship, merit-based full resident tuition, four-year undergraduate scholarship for academic excellence, exceptional leadership, and deep commitment to the community. In the past, she has worked as a Medical Assistant Volunteer, Census Enumerator, and Election Inspector to help address these prominent issues in her community and ensure that the Arab American voice is heard and helped. Upon completion of her undergraduate studies. Odeh intends to apply to medical school to specialize in pediatric endocrinology and continue to help her Arab American community around the world whether that be through a career in the United Nations or Doctors Without Borders.

Janna Ramadan

Janna Ramadan is a Palestinian-American from Boston, MA. Raised in a single-mother household, she has experienced first-hand the impact of instability, guiding her passion to serve others. Having work experience in U.S. District Court, the U.S. Senate, and Boston City Council she hopes to serve others through public policy or in elected office. A first-generation college student, she is currently a sophomore at Harvard College studying Government and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, interested in international relations in the Middle East, decolonization, the importance of representation. At Harvard, she spearheaded a laundry and printing subsidy pilot to low-income students on the Undergraduate Council and directs political and external engagement of the Arab and Muslim student groups. In anticipation of the November elections, she directed the launch of the “Pledge to 100%”, which signed 127 student organizations and Harvard offices to commit to 100% eligible voter registration of community members. Her comparative piece on the U.S. and New Zealand gun reform legislation was published in the Claremont Journal of International Relations.

Rawan Saleh

Rawan Saleh is a first-generation immigrant from Jordan. She is a sophomore at the University of Louisville pursuing a public health degree on a pre-medical track. Saleh loves activism and social justice and helping others; this can be translated into her experience with developing speeches and performing them at different levels throughout school and other local, and national level where her statement and very own picture got featured in the New York Times online and print magazine. She is very involved in school and the community, in numerous clubs and extracurricular including the Beta Club, National Honor Society, the Y-club (KUNA & KYA), and DECA. As a freelancer, she has worked in a variety of declines and sectors including creating a temporary media business called “Mediaite”, and work for YesBrands. Currently, she works as a shift manager at Plato’s Closet, PAL leader at her university, at the Women’s Center all as part-time, and being a full-time student.

Laila Shadid

Laila Jolin Shadid is a Lebanese-American writer at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is double majoring in Middle Eastern studies and sociology. Shadid plans to pursue a career in journalism abroad. She was recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards in both personal essays and journalism. Her work was published in The Best Teen Writing of 2018. At UPenn, she co-founded the school’s premiere Middle East journal, Fenjan, where she leads a team of over 20 staff members to publish quarterly issues. She also serves on the board of the Penn Arab Student Society and co-founded the club Penn Students Against the (Israeli) Occupation. Shadid is dedicated to increasing empathy for and understanding of the Arab community at home and abroad.

Nadeen Sobh

Nadeen Sobh is currently a student in the Henry Ford Collegiate Academy. She plans on attending Wayne State University studying public health as her major and chemistry as her minor. Sobh is vice president of the National Honors Society at her school, was President of the Cancer Awareness Club junior and senior years, secretary of the Anti-Bullying Club, and a mentor of Star Leader. She is also Lieutenant Governor and New Club Building Chair of the Michigan District of Key Club, a member of the Arabic Club, a member of Discover Islamic club, and a member of the Middle Eastern War Relief Club. Sobh worked with the United Network of Islam to lead fundraisers for underprivileged children.

Karla Stephan

Karla Stephan is a first-generation American of Syrian and Lebanese origin. She is a 16-year old student at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland. After organizing her school’s walkout protesting gun violence in 2019, she became one of the four organizers of the March 2019 Climate Strike in Washington DC with more than 1,000 participants. She later became involved in the national team of US Youth Climate Strike as its National Finance Director and DC Lead. Her climate activism earned her an invitation among 50 youth globally to participate in the United Nations Youth Climate Summit in New York last year. Stephan is an activist in the Black Lives Matter movement, having organized a protest in her community that got featured in many media outlets. She has been involved in politics, speaking, and volunteering for social justice. She has developed a keen passion for fighting discrimination against religion, race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, and gender. She became the youngest intern at the Arab American Institute, where she founded @yalla.youth, an online platform that aims to create a community for Arab American youth and educate on key issues in the Middle East. She successfully led a fundraising and awareness campaign in the aftermath of the August explosion in Beirut in raising $4,000, primarily from youth, for the Lebanese Red Cross.

Maya Taha

Maya Taha was born in Boston, MA and lived in Beirut, Lebanon until she was 14, and returned to the United States. She is currently a junior studying Political Science at Boston College. Taha is the president of Boston College’s Arab Student Association and is passionate about advancing Arab-American civil rights. She is also involved in public service activities, such as the ELL program at Boston College, in which she tutors dining hall staff members to ease their transition into the local culture. She has also volunteered with Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Taha has previously interned at the CAC in Boston, and SETA in Washington DC. Additionally, she has extensive research experience as she has been a research assistant at The Project on National Movements and Political Violence, the Harvard National Security Council Project, and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

Jenna Yasin

Jenna Yasin is currently a first-year undergraduate student majoring in Adolescent Young Adult Education at Baldwin Wallace University. She has a passion to create an educational environment in which students are motivated to learn and look forward to attending class. Her experience includes being a learning assistant at a Kumon Learning Center, where she aids students with their coursework as well as file and grade students’ homework packets. She is involved in many local organizations, such as a monthly food pantry at the Islamic Center of Cleveland that distributes fresh produce to low-income families that are provided from the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. A few of her achievements include graduating high school with honors, an Associates of Arts degree, as well as being a member of Phi Theta Kappa.


Compiled by Arab America


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