Continuing with our Women’s History Month theme “Choose to Challenge,” we’re hearing from AWF Inspire Atlanta alumna Amal Yusuf, who is the project manager for the Employee Relations Center of Expertise at Delta Air Lines. Amal’s story is personal, harrowing, and inspiring, and demonstrates the strength women have, especially when they unite and support one another.
It was an early morning in December of 1990, and at the age of nine, my biggest dream was to climb the mango tree in our front yard and show the boys (my brother Mohamed, age 11, and my cousin Burhan, age 10) that I wouldn’t fall. I didn’t realize that my life as I knew it was about to change forever.
Suddenly, I could hear popping sounds like popcorn, and feel the tension in the house as the noise got closer and louder. My mom grabbed me, my brother, and my cousin, opened the front door, and ran into the street. She explained in a panic that militia men (Kofiyad Gaduud, aka Men with Red Hats) had entered the house through the back door. They were looting and killing everyone in sight. I was frightened; I wanted my dad and my other siblings, and most of all, I wanted my shoes. I kept telling my mom that we needed to go back to put on shoes because my feet were hurting. As the hail of bullets landed around us, I saw people fall to my right and left, bright red blood staining the streets. That day, I formed my first visions of women as heroes, for my mother never showed fear, even when faced with death; she looked death square in the eye and persevered. She created a safe zone while Somalia was burning.
Fast forward three years: we have resettled in Egypt, and I’m sitting in bed holding back tears because I’m in disbelief, and I’m angry at myself for not seeing the signs. In October 1994, my beloved aunt was killed by her husband in Kenya while she slept. It’s another defining moment in the life of that nine-year-old who escaped war only to be haunted by violence. That day, I vowed to always empower those who feel powerless, and to uplift those who dare to dream, for my aunt had so many dreams she had yet to fulfill.
Every day of my eleven-year career at Delta, I have worked hard because I carry the weight of every immigrant and refugee girl who dreams of working and succeeding in Corporate America. If the nine-year-old who ran away from her house without shoes can find a seat at the table, then it’s time to tell our girls that if they want it, that dream can one day be theirs, too.
But beyond a career, in 2019, I found The Atlanta Women’s Foundation, and in the Inspire Atlanta class, I met a cohort of women, each with a powerful story of triumph against different odds. Women whose extraordinary stories and passion for service brought them together in the worst of times, the COVID-19 global pandemic, to create a path for women in the community to write their unique stories. Stories defined by their courageous pursuit of human dignity, and not by a lack of resources, support, or encouragement.
“Women have been moving mountains for centuries; we give when we don’t have much, feed others while hungry, and smile amid immense pain. The pandemic has made the mountain harder to move. Now, more than ever, we have a huge responsibility to shoulder.”
Women have been moving mountains for centuries; we give when we don’t have much, feed others while hungry, and smile amid immense pain. The pandemic has made the mountain harder to move. Now, more than ever, we have a huge responsibility to shoulder.
I’ve always lived by the motto, “Having the backbone to stand alone gives you the strength to carry others,” but with AWF, I’ve realized that I don’t have to stand alone, and together, we can let other women know that they don’t have to, either. The smallest act or show of support can change the trajectory of a girl or woman’s life forever – we can each be the tiny ping that turns a woman’s head a few degrees, allowing her to see a possibility that was in her blind spot before. Tell your co-worker how much you value her discussion contribution in front of the whole team; compliment her skillful execution of a task; amplify her statement if others gloss over it in conversation, crediting her as you repeat it. This is how we expand our presence at the table – pulling up a seat next to us when we see another woman standing against the wall.
Together, let’s keep bringing more chairs, and eventually build the longer table, so that all women may feast.
Amal Yusuf is the project manager for the Employee Relations Center of Expertise at Delta Air Lines, where she ensures her team has the process and technology capabilities to drive results for 75K employees. As an 11-year employee of a values-driven company, Amal has served Delta’s employees and customers in many roles, including onboarding program manager for flight attendants, and manager of Safety Leadership and Promotion, where she designed and delivered programs to promote a culture of personal safety.
Amal’s passion for advancing women’s careers led her to become Vice President of SHE, Delta’s Women’s Business Resource Group, where she develops strategies that support Delta’s business goals, with a focus on attracting, retaining, and developing the best women in the business. Outside of Delta, Amal is active in the community through volunteer work in the city of Clarkston, GA, which is home to a large population of refugees and immigrants. In 2019, she discovered the AWF-sponsored Inspire Atlanta program, and enjoys working with its cohort of inspiring women to fundraise and support women and girls across Atlanta.
Amal’s fondest memory of the last three years is a panel on Personal Leadership hosted by The Islamic Speakers Bureau where Amal shared her experiences in the corporate world as a woman, but most importantly, as an immigrant Muslim woman. Many women feel like they need to change who they are to fit a specific corporate mold. Amal is working to shift this mindset and share the message that when women understand who we are and honor what’s important to us, we shine; our authentic selves are what our companies need to achieve success.