For most of her life Salsabeel Al-Silwi, “Salsa,” has been focused on family and her second home at the Bronx Muslim Center.
Al-Silwi, 18, recently completed an internship at Community Board 11 and has her eyes set on becoming a doctor.
She did not know much about politics or government until she met Yahay Obeid, a member of the center, who is also the vice chairman of Community Board 11.
Obeid told her in 2019 about an internship opportunity with the board and she applied. Al-Silwi, who had never heard of the community board, spoke with District Manager Jeremy Warneke and interned there from July 2019 to June 2020.
“Even when I started I was confused about the purpose of community board,” she told the Bronx Times. “Jeremy made it his mission to teach me about the community board.”
Al-Silwi recalled that she was quite nervous when she began her role there. Speaking to strangers was not something she was adept at, so it took time to get used to.
As an intern she answered emails, helped with scheduling, filing and ultimately observed and was encouraged to ask questions about everything that took place.
The teen assumed office work meant nonstop typing and phone calls, but quickly saw it was much more.
“I learned things about the community I had no idea about,” she explained. “I loved my time there.”
Al-Silwi, 18, was born in Little Yemen, a section of Morris Park to Hamud Al-Silwi and Ameta Al-Wadea who immigrated here 20 years ago.
The community has been her entire life. She wears a hijab and feels if raised in other neighborhood things might have been different.
She recalled as a child one kid even pulled it off her head. Al-Silwi explained that wearing one is supposed to be liberating, but many don’t like it.
“I know for sure if we hadn’t grown up with girls around me that wear the hijab it would have been much more difficult,” she explained. “I’ve always been out casted or looked at weirdly.”
Al-Silwi, who is a freshman at Barnard College, credits her parents for her work ethic and values.
They arrived in the United States and had to learn English and adapt to a new culture. During that time, her dad obtained his PhD in education and administration and today, is a principal at am Arabic school.
“My entire life has been shaped and molded by them,” she said. “They’re really good at being role models.”
Her father’s passion for helping others is instilled in her.
In high school at the Collegiate Institute for Math and Science (CIMS) she started a mentorship program that paired freshman with seniors, launched a teen initiative centered on leadership and activism and helped plan a career day, a racism town hall and a park cleanup.
Al-Silwi’s career goals changed her freshman year when she took a biology class and suddenly was focused on the medical field.
With plans to eventually become a dermatologist, the once shy girl is grateful for the opportunity she had as an intern at CB 11 and stressed it opened her eyes to how things work in the world.
“It should be everyone’s life’s mission to serve their community board and the one thing I’ve learned through all of this is to stay true to oneself,” she remarked.