Q: Tell me about how you discovered your passion for broadcast journalism. What has been your journey since then?
When I was a child, my dad had a cable access TV talk show in Boston. I grew up watching my dad have a talk show and also watching the news every night with my family. At one point, it clicked that I wanted to be a news reporter. My dad would put me on his TV show sometimes as a “book expert.” I’d go on and read books for the show. I think being in that environment gave me an itch and love for the field.
I went to college and specifically chose a program that I knew was one of the best in the country for broadcast journalism, which was at American University in D.C. I knew what station I wanted to work at after college, which was Western Massachusetts. I knew after that I eventually wanted to move back to Boston to work there, which I did.
Q: What has been your favorite news story to cover?
I’ve been in a hot air balloon for a news story and I’m absolutely terrified of heights. I was like, “If I don’t do it now, I’m never going to do it.” I’d never voluntarily do this myself, but I had to for work. Massachusetts has a hot air balloon festival, so I figured, “You know what? I’m going to do it!”
Q: What has been your most rewarding career moment as a reporter?
I won a Mass Broadcaster’s Association award for a story I did during the pandemic. I covered one of the first pandemic birthday parades here in western Massachusetts. Those awards are judged by your peers. To me, stories of human interest and community are the ones I love so much and they’re my favorite to do. Plus, being recognized by my peers that it was a good story was amazing.
Q: Tell me about your role as Miss Massachusetts 2022. What has been your journey of embarking into this role?
I started competing in scholarship competitions for the Miss America Foundation in college, but my goal was always to go to the Miss Massachusetts competition and work to represent the state in the Miss America competition. I won Miss Cambridge this year, which was the title I really wanted to go to Miss Massachusetts as, and I ended up winning! Now I’ll be competing for Miss America in December.
Q: Tell me about your experience as the first Muslim Miss Massachusetts.
Last year when I competed, I brought my prayer mat to rehearsal, and I remember that being the first time they ever had to work around that during rehearsals. Usually they don’t allow you to have your phone, but I needed mine so I could hear my prayer alarm. This year, I found out that when you fill out your paperwork to go to the state competition, they added a section that wasn’t there before that asked, “Is there any religious information/practices we should know about during rehearsals or the competition?” I found that to be a real change, because I thought, “Wow, just me being there and being a Muslim woman in that space enacted some change,” so that hopefully someone can feel more comfortable in the future.”
Q: What is a message you’d like to say to other young Muslim girls who may be considering entering pageantry?
I would tell young Muslim girls to think about all the scholarship opportunities that come with it, and just how much money you can get for your education. I’d also tell them to think that there can’t just be the first. There has to be more of us in this space in order for more girls to want to compete and to feel represented. We need more because the more of us there are, the more change and representation we can have across the board. I’m a Black Muslim woman, but what about an Indian Muslim woman? There are so many variations of us and so much uniqueness in the Muslim community. I think I’d also say go represent who you are, not just how we are as a religion.
Q: As a country, we’re living through some trying times. How have you been coping with that?
Last year, I was at a pageant and the judge looked at me and said, “So you’re a Black Muslim woman; how’s your year been?” I remember actually thinking, “Oh my gosh! Finally someone wants to hear this; someone really cares.” She said it in a tone that truly made me feel like I was in a safe space. I remember answering the question and telling her that it’s hard — it’s been hard! I find joy in the progress that we’re making as a society through recognizing the struggles that people in marginalized groups go through. I think there’s never been a time in American history where we’re so open to learning about other people, diversity and how to be a more inclusive society. For me, it’s about making space in organizations and media, so people aren’t just being represented, they’re being heard, and the work they’re doing matters. You have to give people the space to do the work that you hired them to do, not just to be the face of your diversity team.
Q: You frequently use your platform to discuss and bring awareness to mental health issues, which is such an important topic in the current climate of the world. What has inspired you to use your platform with this purpose?
When I was in high school, I went to a mental hospital for depression and anxiety. I’m very open about that and it’s what has inspired me to do the Instagram lives: “Mental health Mondays.” In these lives, I pick a certain mental health topic and bring on an actual expert in that field to talk about it. The goal for me is to make it conversational. The way I talk about my mental health, I want to make other people feel that way.
I’ve gotten responses from people who I haven’t spoken to in years, who’ve messaged me saying, “Thank you so much for discussing this because I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about these topics if you didn’t decide to bring them up so casually.” I go everywhere and say, “Ah yes, that one time I was in the looney bin.” I very lightheartedly talk about it because I think we get so scared talking about mental health because it can be such a tough and heavy topic, but I think if we let that heaviness and fear of judgment get in the way of talking about it, it won’t ever progress.
Q: What is a goal you have for your mental health campaign? What are the feelings you hope it invokes among viewers?
I learned a key phrase I will use for the rest of my life, by Samaritans Inc. I was doing a story on them and they taught me something they call “befriending.” That’s what they do at their call center: when people call, they don’t give any advice. They aren’t there to judge you or tell you what you should do. Befriending is sitting, listening to someone and meeting them where they are. It’s telling them that it’s OK. I think that’s a huge part of what I want to accomplish because that’s a lot of what is lacking. It’s letting people talk and meeting them in the space that they’re in mentally. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it — it’s important to address the issue from how they’re approaching it.
Q: You’ve been a volunteer for the Special Olympics for 15 years. What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from this experience?
I got involved in the Special Olympics when I was 10 years old because my little brother is on the spectrum and he is an Olympian. When he became involved, I started volunteering. I love it so much. It is an indescribable feeling watching people being so happy because they’re finally in a space where they can do something that society has told them they can’t so openly, unapologetically, enthusiastically. It’s not like there’s a stigma when you’re there. It’s not like they’re doing it to fight oppression. It’s just pure joy. It’s happy, pure sportsmanship and friendship and not only have I gained being able to watch that and have even more empathy than I had before, as I’ve also gained friends in these Special Olympians. The most special part to me is how fulfilling of an experience it is.
Q: What is a message you’d give to people who have a negative stigma towards the beauty pageant industry?
The stigma in the pageantry world comes from the old-fashioned view. I still see comments of people saying, “It’s 2022 and we’re still parading women around?” What I want to break is that no one is parading me. I’ve chosen to enter this competition for the money. It’s one of the largest scholarship providers for women. I won $15,000 in one single night.
I think we have to think about the fact that it’s 2022, meaning women have more agency over their decisions and what activities they choose to do than ever before. So I think the stigma that I want to break for people is that we can be both. I can participate in a beauty pageant and be incredibly smart and incredibly beautiful. I can be both of those things. I have never been more impressed than being in the same group with so many women who are doing incredible things and have amazing hopes and dreams that I know they can achieve, not only by themselves but also because of this organization. I competed with a girl who’s getting her PhD in psychology to be a therapist for underprivileged kids. There are so many things these women do on top of being Miss “insert title here,” which is an entire job in itself.
I think what a lot of people miss is how incredible and how much work these women put into their communities while also being pretty. I think nothing says 2022 like accepting the fact that women can have agency over their time and what they want to do, and have success in many job fields.
Q: Having already accomplished so much at such a young age, what are some goals you have for yourself within the next five to 10 years?
I completed two of my biggest goals in the last year alone: getting my dream job at CBS Boston and becoming Miss Massachusetts 2022. I want these opportunities to continue to further my career, but right now I’m just enjoying these accomplishments and letting myself be grateful and proud of how far I’ve come. I’m very proud of myself and the work I’ve put in since being a child to achieve the dreams I’m currently living.
I think a lot of the time we can get lost in thinking about what’s next for us. I love taking in these moments and soaking up the accomplishments I’ve gotten one at a time rather than always rushing towards the next thing. I believe if I’m meant to be Miss America, it’ll be because of the moments in which I’m not thinking about, “Oh, I’m doing this just to become Miss America.” It’ll be because of the moments in which I’m just living the life that I love and doing the things that I’m passionate about, and hopefully that’ll amount to the Miss America title.
Q: What does “she can be both” mean to you?
“She can be both” means that she can be even more than both. To me, that means that she can be all and she is all that she wants to be. It means that women can do everything they want to do and it’s up to them whatever that is. It’s finding the beauty in whatever that “both” is for you.