Meet Merrie Najimy: President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association
By: Alena Khan/Arab America Contributing Writer
The Massachusetts Teachers Association, known to be the largest teachers’ union in the state, has a new leader and her name is Merrie Najimy.
Najimy, along with being President of MTA was also President of the Concord Teachers Association (CTA), she began the Massachusetts chapter of American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC), founded the Educators for a Democratic Union (EDU), and was a teacher for 28 years. Najimy was first inspired to become a teacher when she was just a child, as she struggled to read, write, and to fit into her community.
Growing up in a Lebanese community in Western Massachusetts shaped Najimy’s views on education and politics. In an interview with The Bay State Banner, Najimy explains that “growing up Arab-American in Western Mass is likely a similar experience to growing up Arab-American anywhere else,” she continues, “I grew up in Pittsfield…where I got my affirmation from my family and community. But still, as an Arab-American child in school, I felt alienated.” Najimy, like many other Arab Americans, dealt with the effects from Arabs often being portrayed through the “lens of Islamophobia,” and had to create her own positive views on being an Arab American.
Najimy applied her passion for diversity and equality in her political views. As an activist in the Arab American community, Najimy opened the Massachusetts chapter of ADC where she worked tirelessly to respond to hate crimes, fight against racial profiling, and discrimination. Speaking about her experiences, she acknowledged that “these experiences helped me understand the intersectionality of issues of people from all different racial and ethnic backgrounds.”
Experience and Background
In regards to education, Najimy decided to take matters into her own hands, trying to provide students with the broader worldview they so desperately needed. As an Arab American child in school, Najimy remembers how little she was able to relate the curriculum to her culture and identity. “I went through school in the ‘80s, when the multicultural education movement was well on its way, so I was schooled with a pedagogy rooted in racial justice anti-bias, which today is coming back in the form of cultural proficiency, or cultural responsiveness,” she continued, “I became a teacher because, as an Arab-American child, I felt invisible in the curriculum. I wanted to find a way to teach that was more inclusive of people of all races and ethnicities.” Throughout her years of teaching, Najimy has made it a point to not only implement but write her own anti-racist multicultural curriculum.
As a teacher and as President of CTA, Najimy had to overcome many obstacles trying to turn around the education system. As Concord faced a major moral decline, Najimy dealt with diversity lacking curriculum, a privatization scheme against unionized bus drivers, and even a retaliation campaign against herself for union activity. For years she struggled with the privatization agenda for education that was already in place, taking away the meaning, purpose, and joy behind education. “This agenda aims to dismantle our public schools and unions and threatens our democratic society,” she says, “…I believe in the power of building movements to bring social change.” With the motivation and drive to make a change, that’s exactly what Najimy did. After three years of struggling, Najimy overcame all of her obstacles, the bullying principle resigned, the bus privatization stopped, and the retaliation against Najimy herself was put to an end.
Najimy has been on the MTA Board of Directions for the past six years, the President of CTA for 11 years, and is now President of MTA. She plans to use her experiences to build relationships with her community, becoming closer to locals and parents to create a broader, more diverse community. She plans to continue her support for the “Fight for $15”, Paid Family Medical Leave, Fair Share Amendment, and implementing work-shops on Islamophobia and institutional racism in education. “We know that our students bring to school whatever happens in their lives outside of the classroom, whether it be poverty, gun violence, police brutality, or ICE raids…Fighting for racial and economic equality is not separate from our mission as educators or unionists.”
As President of MTA, Najimy, alongside her Vice President, Max Page, aims to lead the MTA in a new, more positive direction. With her experience in education, activism, unionization and more, Najimy hopes to build a closer, more connected community. “If we want our children to grow up in a more just world, then we must be part of shaping that world through activism and organizing.” She plans to get through the struggles the education system faces collectively, while preserving public education as a right for all people, ultimately returning profession of teaching to one of enjoyment, meaning, and dignity.