Mussab Ali, who won a prestigious Truman scholarship last year, is breaking barriers for his Muslim community.
When Mussab Ali, a Rutgers University-Newark senior, won a seat on the Jersey City school board this month in a tight race, he was stunned. He had tried once before and lost. This time he won by 68 votes.
“It still feels kind of surreal,” says the Honors College student, who managed a full course load of 22 credits and responsibilities as president of the Muslim Students Association in addition to running his successful campaign.
Brian Murphy, director of the Honors College at Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) said he checked in throughout the night to see how Mussab was doing and got word after midnight that he’d won. “We’re thrilled!”, Murphy says. “The Honors College has brilliant students who often take what they’ve learned in our classrooms and research laboratories and apply it in service of the public good. Jersey City schools will be in good hands, and the Honors College is proud to count Mussab as one of our own.”
This was Ali’s second attempt at the school board seat, and he says the name recognition from his run last year, as well as support from the teachers union, provided a large boost to his campaign.
Ali ran on the platform of being a voice for students. He says his first priority is to create a permanent non-voting student member of the board, so that there will be a student representative that will get young people more involved in local politics.
School officials believe that Ali, who is 20 years old, is the youngest person ever elected to the nine-member Jersey City school board, but Ali is more proud of the fact that he is breaking barriers for his Muslim community. “I think I’m the first Muslim elected official in Jersey City. Being the youngest is great, but eventually someone younger will come along. But to be the first Muslim, to open the door for the community and give them this opportunity, that is huge.”
RU–N Chancellor Nancy Cantor, whom Ali sought out as a mentor, says Ali’s commitment to public service was evident in the sophistication exhibited in his campaigns. “In our personal conversations, he has shown himself to be very thoughtful in his analysis of how to close the achievement gap in urban schools, questions of local versus state control of public schools and the best ways to build educational pathways to college for students in under-resourced urban schools,” Cantor says. “Perhaps it is not surprising, then, how he built on his campaign experience last year, garnering endorsements along the way, and won the election this year.”
Ali, who has a double major in neurobiology and economics and ultimately wants to pursue health policy, is also exploring health and wellness initiatives, such as a program to provide eyeglasses to students who cannot afford them and requiring vendors seeking food contracts in the schools to meet stricter nutritional guidelines.
He also wants to leverage his connection to RU-N in his new role. “The great thing about having Chancellor Cantor as one of my mentors is learning from what RU-Newark has done as an anchor institution in Newark. I’d like to reach out to our university and say ‘how can we build more partnerships? How can we expand on that into Jersey City?’ ”
Earlier this year, Ali became the first student from RU-N awarded the prestigious Truman Scholarship. The scholarship helps aspiring public service leaders pay for graduate education. He says that network has already provided him with tremendous support. Scholars from several other states not only supported his campaign, but also joined him at his home to watch the election results come in. Andrew Rich, executive secretary of the Truman Scholarship Foundation said,
“Mussab is a phenomenal young man, who in his interview for the Truman made clear not only his commitment to public service in general, but also to his community of Jersey City. It’s particularly exciting to see him at such a young age elected to serve the school board and the people of Jersey City.”
Ali is looking forward to serving his one-year term and hopes his service will set an example for others.
“Jersey City is the most diverse city in the nation and Rutgers-Newark is the most diverse campus in the nation,” he says, “so I’ve been very fortunate to be in those two environments where I don’t have to feel like I’m a minority and that my voice doesn’t matter.”
- With permission from Rutgers University. This article first ran on Rutgers website Nov. 15.