Our Team

Samar Ali, Founding President

samar@millionsofconversations.com

Samar Ali is an entrepreneur and lawyer whose international career has spanned tenures at the White House, in South Africa, at the State Government of Tennessee.

Samar is a recipient of the White House Fellows IMPACT Award and the Young Alumni Professional Achievement Award from Vanderbilt University. As a White House Fellow in President Barack Obama’s administration, Ali worked closely with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, focusing on bilateral national security negotiations. After Ali’s time in federal government, she served as Assistant Commissioner for International Affairs to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. Samar later co-founded Lodestone Advisory Group, a multi-national consulting firm. She maintains her law practice through Bass Berry & Sims with a focus on national security and cybersecurity law.

She is a Young Global Leader with the World Economic Forum; a Term Member with the Council on Foreign Relations; and is a Winrock International Board Member.

Samar is also an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt University School of Law and sits on the board of several non-profit and educational institutions, including Vanderbilt Law School. She is also a Commissioner on the Nashville Metro Council Human Relations Commission, whose mission is to protect the personal dignity, peace, safety, security, health and general welfare of all people in Nashville and Davidson County. With a background in national security and conflict mediation, Samar now leads the Millions of Conversations Campaign. Her work is featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Tedx Nashville, the Tennessean and she is currently working on a book about finding belonging in America today.

During her time at, and after graduating from law school, Samar served as a law clerk to the Honorable Gilbert S. Merritt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and the Honorable Edwin Cameron, now of the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

Rabiah Ahmed, Co-founder and Ambassador Liaison

rabiah@millionsofconversations.com

Rabiah Ahmed is a media/public relations professional with more than 15 years of experience working on strategic communications for the American Muslim non-profit sector. Rabiah has worked extensively on public perceptions of Islam and Muslims and has launched campaigns such as "Muslims Care" and "My Faith My Voice" to address the rising tide of anti- Muslim sentiment in our society. She also authored a media guide, “American Muslims: A Journalist Guide to Understanding Islam and Muslims” and is a frequent speaker at conferences. Previously, Rabiah ran her own PR firm and served as a national spokesperson for her clients’ media on media outlets including, but not limited to: BBC, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, GEO, Al-Arabiya, NPR, WTOP, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times and others. Rabiah holds an MA in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a BA in mass communications from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI.

Why Millions?

“I believe in this campaign because we are willing to meet people where they are and speak to them in a language they can understand. Too often, our community/ interfaith outreach efforts are designed to speak in ways in which we want to be heard and understood without fully understanding how our messages are actually being received. I am excited to be a part of a team that has the tools, know-how, and the relationships for us to break through these barriers in meaningful, effective ways.”

Mohamed-Shukri Hassan, Grassroots Organizer

mohamed@millionsofconversations.com

Mohamed-Shukri Hassan is a civically engaged social entrepreneur with significant experience in community organizing and grassroots advocacy. He is the former Director of the Welcoming Tennessee Initiative that expanded into (https://www.welcomingamerica.org/). Mohamed served on The Nashville Mayors’ New American Advisory Council that helped create the Mayor’s Office for New Americans. He sits on the diversity board at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. Mohamed is also the founding member of American Muslim Advisory council (AMAC). Mohamed earned his B.S. in political science from Tennessee State University and his Master’s from the College of Leadership and Public Service at Lipscomb University.

Why Millions?

“I believe in this campaign because it is about bringing All Americans together in a moment when there are so many forces pulling us apart. I believe in it because our future will be better because of this work.”

Raquel Bueno, Marketing

raquel@millionsofconversations.com

Chris Ruiz, Social Media

chris@millionsofconversations.com

Christopher is a social and digital strategist with a proven track record of building communities and engagement for brands and organizations.

His approach to social is understanding that engagement, at its core, is intent. As such, he works to continuously build and improve interaction online that brings offline results. Christopher develops media campaigns knowing that the Internet is a disconnected experience where people live in media bubbles. It is therefore important to be aware and empathetic in the approach to inspire and incite action among people in the right spaces.

To date, Christopher has managed organic and paid social campaigns for Purina PetCare, eBay, Nespresso US, and the Lincoln Motor Company of Canada.

Christopher holds a B.A. in Business Administration from Saint Louis University where he worked in Annual Giving as the Chair for student philanthropy and fundraising.

Itzi Camio

itzi@millionsofconversations.com

Itzi received her BA from UC Santa Barbara in Business Economics in 2002. She immediately went to work in public accounting for Deloitte and Touche as a consultant and received her CPA in 2005. In 2014, she decided to return to graduate school to get her MBA from UC Davis. She worked as the CFO of the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation for two years before deciding to start her own financial management and consulting business. She currently works mostly with non-profit clients and for organizations that she believes are helping to make a positive impact in the world.

Mary Tezak, Intern

mary@millionsofconversations.com

Mary is in her final year at Vanderbilt University, studying Cognitive Studies and History. She has spent three years working in child development, contributing to research on the formation of unconscious bias in young children. She applied this understanding of identity to her efforts with Millions of Conversations. Through the campaign, Mary has been able to assist with focus group research on Islamophobia in five states, plan community conversation events for 200+ attendees, and complete independent research. Additionally, she spent almost two years studying Turkish in Izmir and Arabic in Amman through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth and Boren Scholarships.

Ambassadors

Maryam Abolfazli, Designer and Content Creator

Maryam Abolfazli is a project manager, program design, and product consultant, as well as a coach and content creator. In her latest capacity, she wrote the stereotype-busting and cultural exchange-inducing content of Culturama, a mobile game aimed at bridging American and Iranian youth, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. In this capacity, she was also the team lead, setting the visual strategy and flow for the game, and managed front-end and back-end developers, designers, artists, writers, and the client to bring the under-resourced product to market.

Alongside her work, Maryam has been coaching and supporting female entrepreneurs, NGOs, and start-ups. Prior to this work, she was the Chief Operations Officer of Brave New Software, which produced Lantern, a censorship circumvention software application popular in Iran and China with over 3 million monthly users. Before Lantern, she was the Middle East North Africa Director at Eurasia Foundation, where she developed the first online training model in 2009 to cultivate and support women entrepreneurs in the Middle East and a new regional focus (Iran and the Middle East) that would grow to become two new major areas of programming for the Foundation. In 2011, having spent 6 years studying and understanding the intersection of democracy, civil society and economic opportunity, Maryam explored and worked closely with new start-up civil society groups in Tunisia, Egypt, and Lebanon to build civil society and introduce new democratic practices after autocratic regimes were removed during the Arab Spring.

During her time at Eurasia Foundation, Maryam grew the team of one to sixteen in addition to over 60 contractors; she also built 4 online schools with her team, designed the entire curriculum, and attracted over 10,000 members and over 300 alumni. She raised over $15M USD in federal funding to fund these projects. Prior to this work, during 2003-2004, Maryam was seconded by the United Nations Office of Project Services to support the Minister of Irrigation, Water Resources and Environment in Afghanistan. Maryam obtained her Master’s in Public Administration at Columbia University. Her work has taken her to 14 countries in the Middle East, South Caucasus, Central Asia, and Eurasia.

Nadia Abuzaineh, Engagement Director at PwC Health Industries Advisory

Nadia is a Director in PwC’s Provider Operations practice and is based in San Francisco. With over eight years’ experience in healthcare consulting, Nadia brings in-depth experience in strategy development for providers, M&A due diligence, program management design and mobilization for large-scale transformation efforts, project portfolio management, IT operating model redesign, patient experience and Revenue Cycle process improvement and redesign. She has worked across the provider and payer space including with hospitals, hospital systems, healthcare foundations, academic institutions, and community health organizations. She is focused primarily on helping providers navigate transformational change and is particularly interested in elevating the healthcare consumer experience by engaging consumers in the process and drawing lessons from other industries. In 2015, Nadia was selected as part of a competitive application process to be the 5th Fellow of the UCSF PwC Public-Private Partnership (PPP) fellowship. In collaboration with the UCSF Global Health Group, she assessed innovative PPP models in healthcare globally and leading practices. Prior to PwC, Nadia worked in international development and emergency relief work with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa. Nadia holds an MPH in Global Health from Yale University and an MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management.

Rabiah Ahmed, Media and Public Relations Professional

Rabiah Ahmed is a media/public relations professional with more than 15 years of experience working on strategic communications for the American Muslim non-profit sector. Rabiah has worked extensively on public perceptions of Islam and Muslims and has launched campaigns such as "Muslims Care" and "My Faith My Voice" to address the rising tide of anti- Muslim sentiment in our society. She also authored a media guide, “American Muslims: A Journalist Guide to Understanding Islam and Muslims” and is a frequent speaker at conferences. Previously, Rabiah ran her own PR firm and served as a national spokesperson for her clients’ media on media outlets including, but not limited to: BBC, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, GEO, Al-Arabiya, NPR, WTOP, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times and others. Rabiah holds an MA in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a BA in mass communications from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI.

Dr. May Bakir, Cardiologist

Dr. May Bakir is a cardiologist trained at the Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai Heart Program at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital. While in residency, Dr. Bakir took a special interest in cardiovascular disease and how it affects women. This curiosity led her to do research in the field and be awarded the Constance A. Austin Grant which allowed her complete a specialized combined clinical and research felslowship studying women’s cardiovascular disease at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles. Her continued research and passion is focused on cardiac disease prevention and women’s heart disease. She has been trained in cardiac MRI, echocardiography, cardiac CT, nuclear cardiology, coronary reactivity testing, pathophysiology of ischemic heart disease, and innovative therapies including external counter-pulsation and stem cell therapies.

Dr. Bakir received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. She was a practicing neuroscientist at both Harvard and NYU prior to attending medical school. Dr. Bakir earned her Medical Degree with Honors from Ross University School of Medicine and completed her Internal Medicine training at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Chicago. She has published numerous peer reviewed articles and book chapters and has presented at many national meetings. She is very active in volunteer work and has gone on several medical mission trips, including one to aid the Syrians in the Zaatari Refugee Camp. Dr. Bakir has also taken an active role in the American College of Cardiology Political Action Committee to ensure fair delivery of care is possible for cardiologists to give and cardiac patients to receive.

Azita Ghanizada, Actress & Advocate

Azita, a political refugee, came to Hollywood with an incredible story of cultural backlash. As a baby, she and her family fled Afghanistan to the United States and gained asylum in an effort to escape war-time conflicts. Being raised in a conservative multicultural home, she was forbidden to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress until she finished her studies. After she received her B.A. in English and Journalism she moved to Los Angeles to begin her career as an actress. She has been on several hit TV shows and worked alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest talents, including Sam Shephard, Michael Shannon, Rachel Weisz, Mahershala Ali, Maya Rudolph, and David Strathairn to name a few.

In 2016, she founded MENA Arts Advocacy Coalition (MAAC) to advocate and educate within the entertainment industry on behalf of Middle Eastern North African (MENA) performers by shining a light on unconscious bias, and challenge unnecessary stereotypes many MENA performers have to endure in Hollywood. In 2017, she successfully lobbied SAG-AFTRA to include Middle Eastern North African (MENA) as its own diverse casting category in the producer’s theatrical contracts. The first time in 37 years a new diversity category has been introduced in the SAG-AFTRA - AMPTP contracts. In 2018, MAAC presented the first-ever study of Middle Eastern and North African performers on TV highlighting the lack of representation for MENA on PrimeTime TV. She actively speaks out on representation and inclusion issues in the media, in business environments and on industry panels.

Fatima Hassan, Associate, Beck Redden LLP

Fatima Hassan Ali is an associate at Beck Redden LLP, a Texas based boutique firm. Before joining Beck Redden, Fatima clerked in one of the nation's busiest federal courts for Judge Micaela Alvarez of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Fatima was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and grew up in Katy, Texas. After graduating in 2009 from Stanford University with a degree in Human Biology and a minor in African Studies, she worked with the United Nations in Geneva focusing on gender-based violence in humanitarian crises. She has conducted research on fragile states at the Center for Health Policy at Stanford, and for a philanthropic consultancy based in the Bay Area. Motivated to better understand the nexus between law, economic development, and security, she left the Bay Area to earn her J.D. from Harvard Law School. At Harvard Law School, Fatima served as a student attorney with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. She was also a primary editor for the Harvard Human Rights Journal; worked with the Rwanda Development Board as a Chayes Fellow drafting legal instruments related to strategic foreign investments; and worked with investors on cross-border acquisitions and joint ventures in Cambodia. Fatima is currently the co-chair of the Diversity Committee of the Houston Young Lawyers Association and member of the International Human Rights Committee of the State Bar of Texas.

Mohamed Shukri Hassan, Grassroots Organizer

Mohamed-Shukri Hassan is a civically engaged social entrepreneur with significant experience in community organizing and grassroots advocacy. He is the former Director of the Welcoming Tennessee Initiative that expanded into (https://www.welcomingamerica.org/). Mohamed served on The Nashville Mayors’ New American Advisory Council that helped create the Mayor’s Office for New Americans. He sits on the diversity board at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. Mohamed is also the founding member of American Muslim Advisory council (AMAC). Mohamed earned his B.S. in political science from Tennessee State University and his Master’s from the College of Leadership and Public Service at Lipscomb University.

Nadah Hindiyeh, MD. Clinical Assistant Professor, Neurology & Neurological Sciences

Nada Hindiyeh is a board-certified Neurologist and Headache specialist and is currently an Assistant Clinical Professor of Neurology at Stanford University Medical Center. She serves as the director of Clinical Research for the Stanford Department of Headache and Facial Pain. Her interests include clinical trials and novel therapeutics for the treatment and prevention of migraine and cluster headache.

She received her medical degree from the University of Toledo College of Medicine, in Toledo Ohio. Both her internship and Neurology residency were completed at the University of California, Irvine, Medical Center, where she was chief resident. She then completed her fellowship in Headache and Facial Pain at Stanford University School of Medicine.

She was awarded the 2013 Clinical Research Fellowship in Neurotoxins by the American Academy of Neurology and under this scholarship is currently investigating a diagnostic screening protocol for chronic migraine. She is currently a member of the American Headache Society (AHS) as well as the International Headache Society (AHS). She was recognized as an emerging leader in the field of headache medicine by AHS in 2017 and serves on the Electronic Media Committee for AHS.

Delila Khaled, Foreign Policy & International Development Expert

Ms. Delila Khaled is an international development and foreign policy expert, social entrepreneur, and executive manager. She brings more than two decades of experience in the international arena working in the non-profit and for-profit sectors in more than 20 countries.

Most recently, Delila served as Executive Director at the Center for Global Policy (CGP) – the first US think tank working exclusively at the intersection of US foreign policy and Muslim geopolitics. She led the startup of CGP, rapidly transforming it from a virtual entity to a full-fledge institution. Under her oversight, the center launched its first weekly publication and was regularly tapped by mainstream news outlets, quickly garnering recognition from US government and peers as a trusted thought leader in the DC policy arena.

Prior to CGP, Delila served as Executive Vice President at the Development Innovations Group (DIG) – an international management consulting firm that she co-founded in 2005. DIG works with governments and civil society across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Caribbean to improve the lives of the poor. Delila oversaw DIG’s business development and program operations focusing in inclusive governance, innovative finance, and urban development. She was instrumental in the design and implementation of several flagship programs for USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, including: Greenfield commercial financing for water utilities in Kenya; an OPIC-financed post-earthquake reconstruction fund in Haiti, and USAID’s first recycling program in Asia. Prior to launching DIG, Delila held senior positions at leading non-profit and for-profit organizations in Washington DC. She began her career at UNICEF/Egypt focusing in women’s economic empowerment.

Delila actively supports a number of social causes and serves on several boards. She is an Advisory Board member at the Center for Security, Race, and Civil Rights at Rutgers Law School – the first law center dedicated to addressing the systemic causes of Islamophobia and xenophobia against people of Arab, African, and South Asian descent. For Sister Cities International, she is Chair for International Development on the Board of the Baltimore-Luxor-Alexandria Committee. Delila also serves on the Global Advisory Board for Laurel Strategies.

A multi-culturalist by nature, Delila was born in New York City, raised in Bahrain, and attended secondary school in London. She completed her undergraduate studies in New York and Cairo receiving a bachelor's degree in religion studies and anthropology. After obtaining her master's degree in international development from the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, she settled in Washington DC to start a business and raise her family.

Manal Omar, Chief Executive Officer at Across Red Lines

Manal Omar is the founder of Across Red Lines, dedicated to women’s leadership through accessing life force energy and deeper understanding of rights through a faith lens. She designed and led multiple development and training projects in the Middle East and Africa, and provided media and policy support on youth and gender programming on a global scale. She served as the Associate Vice President for the Middle East and Africa Center at US Institute of Peace under the Obama Administration. Omar served on the board of directors for the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) and AltMuslimah. She has also served on the advisory board of Peaceful Families Project, Prosperity Catalyst, Women’s Voices Now, and Sisters Against Violent Extremism in Austria. Her experience includes serving as an international advisor for the Libya Stabilization Team in Benghazi in 2011; working as the OXFAM-UK regional program manager for the Middle East.

As part of her work with Women for Women International as regional coordinator for Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sudan, Omar lived in Baghdad from 2003 to 2005. She set up programmatic operations in Iraq. Omar was named among “Top 500 World’s Most Influential Arabs” by Arabia Business Power in 2011 and 2012. She was also recognized among the “500 Most Influential Muslims in the World” by Georgetown University and The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in 2009. In 2007, Islamic Magazine named Omar one of the ten young visionaries shaping Islam in America. She was honored by her alma mater as one of the top 50 Exemplars is 2018.

Omar holds a master's degree in Arab studies from Georgetown University and a bachelor's degree in International Relations from George Mason University. Manal has a certification in Global Mental Health – Trauma and Recovery from Harvard Medical school and is currently a student at Sex Coach University in California. She is a Truman National Security Fellow and an inaugural Foreign Policy Interrupted fellow dedicated to including women in foreign policy and peacebuilding.

Zulfat Suara, Councilwoman at-Large

Zulfat was elected as an at large council member in September 2019. With over 34 thousand votes from a very diverse population (Muslim, Christians, Jews, Black, White, Gay, Straight, Old and Young), she became the first Muslim to be elected to the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County and the first immigrant elected to an at-large position. She is the first Muslim woman elected in the State of Tennessee and the first Nigerian woman elected to any office in the United States.

Zulfat Suara is originally from Nigeria, but came to the U.S. in 1993 and chose to make Tennessee her home when the opportunity for her husband to do a fellowship at Vanderbilt presented itself. She has been active in community service and leadership since she moved here in 1998, all while working full-time as a CPA. Zulfat founded an accounting firm that has worked with county governments in Hardeman, Haywood, Lake, and McNairy counties. She is currently the Assistant Controller of a local university in Nashville.

Maysoon Zayid, Actress, Comedian, and Disability Advocate

Maysoon Zayid is an actress, comedian, writer, and disability advocate. She is a graduate of and a Guest Comedian in Residence at Arizona State University. Maysoon is the co-founder/co-executive producer of the New York Arab American Comedy Festival and The Muslim Funny Fest. She was a full-time On-Air Contributor to Countdown with Keith Olbermann and a columnist for The Daily Beast. She has most recently appeared on Oprah Winfrey Networks In Deep Shift, 60 Minutes, and ABC News. Maysoon had the number one TED Talk of 2014 and was named 1 of 100 Women of 2015 by BBC.

As a professional comedian, Maysoon has performed in top New York clubs and has toured extensively at home and abroad. She was a headliner on the Arabs Gone Wild Comedy Tour and The Muslims Are Coming Tour. Maysoon appeared alongside Adam Sandler in You Don’t Mess with the the Zohan and has written for VICE. She limped in New York Fashion Week and is proud to be an ambassador for the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. Maysoon is currently developing a comedy series for ABC Television with Hazy Mills Productions called Cancan. www.Maysoon.com

Yasmine Zaki, Attorney and Advocate

Jasmine Zaki is an attorney and advocate in Washington DC at Dentons US. She helps US and European companies do business in emerging developmental democracies in the Middle East and North Africa and advises clients on numerous commercial matters, including regulation and compliance issues as they relate to companies operating in the Middle East and Africa. Jasmine provides advice related to international commercial transactions and arrangements such as joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, commercial agencies and franchising in the Middle East and North Africa region. She assists clients with structuring commercial contracts, distribution agreements and services agreements, and provides legal advice related to public international law, US and international sanctions, export control, banking, policy and political risk, economic development and investment. She has experience advising clients on entry into emerging markets in the Middle East and Africa, with emphasis on political, regulatory and formation matters relating to development of post-conflict countries and countries in transition. In addition, she advises US and foreign persons on sanctions, immigration and trade matters. Prior to law school, Jasmine was the Chief Press Officer for the Mission of Iraq at the United Nations following the overthrow of Saddam. She currently also helps operate the US-Kurdistan Business Council, which helps American companies do business in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. In her free time, she is a yoga instructor, travel enthusiast, and recovering coffee addict.

Ayah Mahjoub