In the summer of 2020, the city of Flint created an advisory task force to bridge gaps between the community and law enforcement. Flintside is regularly talking to members of the task force to share their reasons for joining and what they hope to accomplish. Other task force member profiles: Jeffrey Hawkins | Debra Furr-Holden | Mario Booker | Ralph Arellano | Estephanie Ward | Brandan Jamison
FLINT, Michigan -- Linda Samarah’s background as a first generation Arab-American strengthens her ability to see cultural and language nuances that are essential tools in the work she is doing in Flint. Samarah is a member of Flint’s Community Advisory Task Force on Public Safety and a hope for an equitable future is her main focus.
Samarah’s parents are Jordanian immigrants that came to the United States in the 1990s and settled in Flint. Her desire for change and her motivations come from her personal experiences of being raised in an immigrant’s home.
“Growing up in Flint and in the Arab diaspora, identity was always something that was a huge part of my life,” she said. “It forced me to think about identity in everything that I do. And growing up in a post 9/11 world, I was always aware of me and my family's otherness and the impacts and consequences of that imposed otherness. As I continued to grow and learn, I was made aware of myself and my family’s privilege, our proximity to whiteness and how we, even as people of color who identify as Arab and not white, still benefited from whiteness. The unfortunate reality is that anti-black blackness exists everywhere in our systems and institutions, whether intentional or not, but including in BIPOC communities.”
Samarah’s father was a small business owner in Flint. She witnessed firsthand the disconnect between the different cultures and communities in Flint.
“Arab and Black communities have been set up to be disconnected from one another,” she said. “I've witnessed Arab and immigrant business owners relying solely on law enforcement to facilitate their relationships with the communities that they operated in. I think growing up and witnessing this pattern, it kind of just taught me how disconnected communities can be, and how much more intersectional work and understanding needs to happen. So honestly, this work has always been really deeply personal and something I wanted to work on.”
The recurring truth that the police and the community have a painful relationship filled with distrust is an issue that Samarra and the task force hope to work towards transforming into something positive. Samarah believes that working on the task force is an opportunity to start this important intersectional work.
During the task force’s first webinar, members were discussing the task force’s vision statement (To foster a just and equitable society nurtured by the collaboration of our community and the Flint Police Department). One of the officio members, Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, suggested changing the word ‘community’ to ‘citizens’ in the vision statement.
Samarah was able to use her remarkable understanding of language to remind webinar attendants that the need for ‘community’ to be chosen over ‘citizens’ would avoid the exclusion of residents in the community that may not fall under ‘legal citizens.’
“Language matters, you know? And I think the stuff is so embedded in our psyche that we don't even realize,” she said. “Sometimes we all have to help each other.”
She hopes to help bridge understanding between marginalized groups in the city in her role on the task force.
“I can say that BIPOC and the LGBTQ communities have all historically faced and continue to face so much injustice and trauma in this country,” she said. “It unfortunately becomes so easy for us to get wrapped up in the injustices, waged against ourselves or our own communities that we lose sight of the collective injustice we face from the same system. So our traumas are deeply connected in many ways. I really want to be a part of helping our communities realize that, because until we do our journey to justice is just going to continue to be really long and painful.
These goals will take time, advocacy and hard work from the task force, the police department, and the community. Samarah is dedicated to this work and being part of the solution to create an equitable future for Flint.
“What drives us is this optimistic belief that exists at our core … that a better, more equitable and compassionate world is possible,” she said. “The fact that we can just imagine that only reinforces how real and attainable that reality and world is.”