Jihan Aiyash, 1st Yemeni American Woman elected to public office in Michigan


By Adel A. Mozip
The Yemeni American News

The “Year of Women” not only made shockwaves around the country by electing a record number of women to Congressional seats but we also witnessed a number of women, especially women of color, running for local offices. There were two seats on the Hamtramck Board of Education that were up for re-election in 2018. Incumbent Board President Magdalena Srodek was the only one on the ballot since Board member Ataure Khan initially didn’t seek re-election. That meant one seat was left for write-in candidates.
Jihan Aiyash, an educator and a graduate research assistant at Wayne State University filed as a write-in candidate after discovering that there was a slot open for the Board of Education. Aiyash told the Yemeni American News “I decided to file as a write-in candidate because I was researching the sample ballot online and saw that the Hamtramck Board of Ed had 2 slots to fill but only 1 candidate formally filed. I took the initiative to reach out to current Board of Ed Trustees to discuss the expectations and responsibilities of a trustee. I reached out to them for guidance, encouragement, and approval and was overwhelmed by how quickly they were willing to support my endeavors on this journey.”
A few weeks before the election, former board member Khan decided to file as a write-in candidate making it a race in which Aiyash won 542 to 290.
On her background, Aiyash said “I am both an alumna and an educator (through ACCESS) from HPS and could provide a unique perspective on improving the quality of education for the Hamtramck Youth.  Education has always been a pivotal catalyst in my personal and professional growth and I would like to impact the personal and professional growth of HPS Students.”
Asking Aiyash if she thought she would make it with only two weeks, she responded “Absolutely not! I ran a campaign, with zero dollars, and a very small team of supporters. My name is not an easy name to spell for people not familiar with Arabic and I was worried about rejected write-in votes. I was very humbled and shocked by the write-in vote totals. I was the underdog against a formidable candidate, who had served as a trustee prior to running his write-in campaign, and I was not sure if my passion for brown and black education would be enough to win against an established member of the Hamtramck  community.”
In order to spread the word around the community, Aiyash ran a social media and text campaign. She thought it would be the most cost effective and efficient way for her at that point. However, she admits that word of mouth from people who believed in her is what got her elected.
Aiyash told the Yemeni American News, “As soon as I announced my candidacy, people were ready and willing to provide services to me at no charge. My reputation preceded me; my passion and work within the community spoke for itself. I could not have reached the people I reached if it was not for the support of everyone that believes in me.”
Jihan Aiyash made history by being the first Yemeni American woman to hold public office in Michigan. On discovering this accomplishment, she said “this shocked me. I’m just a regular woman with regular a 9-5 job. I couldn’t believe that with our history of amazing Yemeni women, who made (and continue to make) amazing strides for our culture and community, that I was the first woman to serve as an elected official. I am hoping this inspires all the amazing women across multiple generations to take matters into their own hands and look into running for public office. A policy change is the most effective change for sustainable systematic equity.”
On her goals for the district and the main challenges, she said “Hamtramck is unique because of the varied students we serve. We have students who need ESL coursework, to those with IEPs,  to those who need to be challenged with dual enrollment courses. My goals, if I am to be elected as a trustee, is to focus on creating equitable education opportunities for our diverse student body. Our school system should be able to provide quality programs for children on the Autism Spectrum, immigrants and refugees who need English and social skills development, and students with learning disabilities. We have the student body diverse enough to explore these avenues and through improved budget use and better-written policies, we can make the HPS system an effective school system for all students. My goals may seem broad, and they are, because I am passionate and sincere in my actions, and with that comes the openness to learning from seasoned peers on how to move through the world of politics. I don’t want to zone in on specific goals if those aren’t the goals of the board or the community.
Current Vice President of Hamtramck Board of Education Evan Major is excited to have Aiyash join the board. “It is an honor to welcome Jihan to the Board of Education. Her intellect, education, and experience will be a welcome addition to our team as we continue the meaningful work of building the school system our community truly deserves. “
On the main issues HPS district is facing, Board Member Major said “this is a critical time to have new advocates involved in the fight for equitable public education in Michigan. Decades of substandard funding, privatization, and school closures have only exacerbated the already existing challenges of poverty and segregation across our State. Hamtramck Public Schools has made heroic strides in the face of these realities, and continues to grow alongside our remarkable community.”
Asking current board member Moortadha Obeid on the addition of Aiyash to the board, he said, “It’s a great addition — Jihan is a product of our district and her diverse experiences in education that would help the board make great decisions for our district. We’re also looking forward to interviewing candidates to replace our retiring superintendent and her experience would tremendously help us make a good choice.”
Aiyash believes that her election would help others seek and run for public office. She said “I am just a regular woman with empathy, who’s passionate about creating equitable opportunities in education That was the catalyst for me to run and it was all that was needed for voters to turn out. Hopefully, this will produce more qualified Yemeni candidates on future ballots.”

* In full disclosure: The Yemeni American News did not receive consent to publish Jihan Aiyash’s photo per her request

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