Omar Ahmad, by all accounts, was a popular man, both in his role as mayor of San Carlos, and as a member of the political and tech communities in the Bay Area and beyond. Thats why, in part, so many people are shocked and saddened by his sudden death by heart attack this morning.
When my kids watched a "black man" (actually a man of mixed race, just like my kids) get elected to be president of the United States, their joy and elation went beyond the politics... I really believe they (my kids) felt like they were part of the American community because someone *just like them* was elected by a majority of Americans. Obama was elected based on his credentials, capabilities, intellect, and leadership, and his racial background did not prevent him from being elected to the highest office in the land. My kids, to this day, identify with Obama, and (notably) even draw him and themselves with the same color markers. But when Obama was attacked for "being Muslim" or having an Arabic middle name, I was horrified. Being 'black' was OK, but being Muslim wasn't?
I'm writing this note because I never got to tell Omar that I really appreciated his visible leadership and presence in the community in which I lived in (San Carlos). Omar had one of those funny names. An Arabic name. And he was Muslim... that religion that all the politicians can't help but demonize.
Why is this so personal to me? You see, *my kids* have funny Arabic names (Aliyah Maria, Joshua Sultan). And to the extent they are being raised with any religious upbringing, it is Islam (their mom's religious affiliation).
So maybe I don't have to spell it out, but its really important to say. My kids saw (then council member) Mayor Omar Ahmad, a brown-skinned Muslim man with an Arabic name, leading their home town. Just like with Obama's election, I know they felt part of the community and were given the boost in pride that they could thrive as much as any other kid with any other name, religion, skin color or special feature. They probably don't even notice it explicitly. They may never have mentioned it. But I'm sure, absolutely sure, that my kids are so much better off for having Omar as an unintended role model. Just by being an active, positive and joyful leader of the community, he helped build an environment in which my kids are thriving despite being "different".
Differences should be celebrated and embraced and I can't think of a better example than Mayor Ahmad in San Carlos. But *highlighting* differences is not why we celebrate him. Indeed, I don't think he ever made an issue of his differences. I'm celebrating his service because he was just "one of us" who made space for those who are different in whatever way they are unique. He made a positive impact by being and doing, *not* talking, and his impact will go on beyond his political career, and indeed his life.
Goodbye Omar, I'm sorry I didn't get to tell you this before you left us...