Over the years, I’ve gone to a lot of campaign events, including kickoffs. Some of them have been great, some of them have been good, some of them have been mediocre, and some of them have been…well, not so hot. What makes a campaign event really great? Start with big turnout. Add in lots of enthusiasm. Great speeches certainly help, as do a bunch of enthusiastic grassroots supporters. Bonus points for heavy-hitter elected officials, candidates, politicos, etc., including those who really support the candidate along with others who sense a winner and want to ally with them or at least get close to the “phenom.”
On all those counts, the campaign kickoff event for Fairfax County At-Large School Board member Abrar Omeish, which I attended along with a couple hundred others, definitely qualifies. See below for videos and photos, and judge for yourself. As one Democratic political activist friend of mine put it, “Fantastic turnout! Fairfax is lucky to have such a great candidate for school board! Abrar is a phenom, truly.” What do you think? I definitely agree, and am enthusiastically endorsing Abrar for this job – because after today, I’m convinced that she is exactly what is needed on the Fairfax County Public School Board!
For starters, here’s just one of several speeches by Abrar’s campaign staff – all high school students, from what I can determine, and all both excellent speakers and also incredibly passionate about Abrar Omeish. Here’s an excerpt: “I believe that Abrar embodies that very essence of mentorship. And I truly believe that just like how she’s impacted my life so profoundly, she will continue to impact so many students’ lives as a caring mentor, passionate advocate and committed public servant. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor and I couldn’t ask for a better leader for Fairfax County.”
Now, here’s Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova, heaping praise on Abrar Omeish. Bulova starts off by saying she’s been to a lot of campaign kickoffs, and that “this is extraordinary…the enthusiasm is infectious and wonderful; I am especially enjoying listening to your young people…this really speaks so well for the future of Fairfax County and the future of our school system.” Talking about Fairfax County’s great public school system, Bulova added that it’s “absolutely critical” to have the county’s diversity represented on the School Board. Bulova added:
“The first time I met Abrar, she just lit up my office. She is special. Abrar is special, and anyone who meets Abrar knows that. I was excited when she came in to visit with me and to let me know that she was running for the School Board. I encouraged her to run for the At-Large seat and I dearly hope that she is successful…I think she’ll be a star…a superstar for us in Fairfax County.”
Next was Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni introducing Abrar Omeish. Atif started by joking that Abrar looks like “she’s planning on [a presidential run in] 2040…she’s scooped up all the talent, the whole campaign staff, it’s very impressive.” Atif added:
“There have been a lot of events that I’ve personally been to, but I’ve never seen a student-led event; and this position is about representing students and putting them first, so actions speak louder than words. And Abrar, you have sent a really big statement today to all of us that you care about students, you care about their voices, and you listen to them, so thank you for doing this.”
Atif said that he’s confident Abrar will focus on closing the achievement gap, and also that “if you’re passionate and you have fresh ideas on how to better spend money, that is what’s needed on the Fairfax County School Board, and I’m confident Abrar can do that...I’m very confident when she is elected – and she will be elected…that she will take Fairfax County to an even higher level…I cannot think of a better person than Abrar Omeish.”
Now, here’s Abrar Omeish’s speech (in two parts, because the memory on one of my cameras ran out towards the end). Some excerpts include:
- She thanked everyone – campaign staff, hosts, attendees, and elected officials in attendance (several School Board members, at least three County Board members, a couple State Senators, etc.).
- She referred proudly to “the energy that’s been fueling this campaign, the bright promising young people, the spirit of what this campaign is all about; when I reflect on the mentors that have been there for me and hoping that that would be the role I have for these students.”
- She talked about growing up in her family with “two parents who dedicated their time in the service of the community.” She discussed learning about the world, how a lot of kids were worse off than she was and that she “had no choice but to dedicate my time my, my service, my energy, my passion to others and to bettering the community that I’m living in.”
- She related how she was bullied as a kid, in part due to being “a woman, a Muslim in the in the U.S. post-9/11,” and how that bullying “made me intolerant to injustice in this community, that made me think the confidence in a child, their belief in themselves, can have such an impact on how far they can go, and that that’s something I want to fight for and preserve in every kid.”
- She talked about how she wants to fight for the kids who don’t have the privileges she has, maybe had parents who were “working two or three jobs to put food on the table.”
- She noted that campaigning is tough, but what keeps her going is “the potential in those kids…the opportunity we want to have them access, the fact that our values don’t allow us to accept that money or access or lack of present parents in their life or whatever it is, that that is not going to be a barrier to that success, because we as Fairfax County Public Schools want to mentor those children, want to provide the support they need, want to be the advocates for them, and that’s the excellent school system that we want to be proud of, because it works for everyone.”
- She talked about things we can do to minimize obstacles to kids succeeding: having tough boundary conversations, advocating for mental health, “lowering those ratios so that counselors are not just there for administrative support but know you by name and are invested in your future and understand your dreams and passions and maybe some of the troubles you’re dealing with”; “we have to make sure that we treat and and compensate our staff with the dignity that the profession deserves”; “advocate for those teachers to be able to live in the communities that they teach in”; “expand public and private partnerships in this community,” including “the partnerships that we have”; “innovative thinking…unwavering passion and commitment.”
- She talked about the importance of innovation and how “education is the great equalizer.”
- Great quote: “I want to be a public servant who thinks like the constituents gonna think; those families that don’t show up on back-to-school night, how do we reach them?”
- “I want to be a public servant who doesn’t just wait for advocacy groups to bring forth ideas. I want to go find those problems. I want to go seek those ideas from the community members and then try to push the conversation to bring us there. We don’t have the money? Let’s think of those innovative ways. Let’s push some of our corporate partners and see what we can get from them to make this happen, to make sure that teachers are respected to bring about the mental health support that we need in these schools. And that’s what I’m asking you all to join me in doing.”
- Abrar concluded: “Let’s face our challenges optimistically. Let’s work together to crowdsource the many ears that are on the ground, to bring forth the best ideas. And let’s carry the conversation forward. I want to hear from you guys. One of the things that I really am trying to make different about this campaign – a spirit of mentorship, investment in each other, growth together…I commit to doing what I can to listen to everyone and to bring those ideas forward if I make it…When you look around you and you look at these students so excited today. When you think of that starry-eyed child that has so much potential to grow in this community. When you reflect on the many challenges and the unique opportunities that exist to bring about equitable education, to provide the support students need; to bring forth resources and opportunities to families in this community who don’t even know a school board exists, or wouldn’t even know to tell you what a school board is; to make that high level of commitment in public service where we bring that to them and we empower the community…These are the students that inspire me…when we think about the future that we can forge together for Fairfax, the opportunities, the values we want to bring. Because none of us here would accept for their child not to have the best, and none of us here would accept to live in a community that was ok with their child not having the best or having the support they needed or not being heard. And so I ask you to join me in that. Let’s not let these kids down. Let’s not let these communities, who are looking and and excited about what we can bring together, down. I ask for your support…Thank you all for coming; let’s do this together folks, there’s a lot of great things we can do, a lot of energy, I’m very honored and pleased to have all of you in this room, let’s do this together…Abrar Omeish for School Board At Large 2019.”
Finally, here are photos of a few of the (many) other student volunteers for Abrar Omeish’s campaign.
P.S. Atif Qarni posted on Facebook: “I have been to many campaign events and Abrar Omeish’s kickoff was probably one of the most impressive. There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm, but what stood out most was that the event was student led. Abrar’s campaign staff is made up entirely of FCPS high school students—she is being advised by the very people who are impacted by school board decisions. This not only speaks volumes about her intellect but also about her heart. I wish her the best of luck on May 21st. Abrar is a rising star in our party. She will be a phenomenal leader in Fairfax and an asset to the Commonwealth.”