Agnieszka Karoluk

“I am always striving to be the best person I can be. My passions include writing, working with young children, and organizing Muslim youth.”

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Who are you?

I was born in a small town in the northeast corner of Poland- not far from Kaliningrad, Russia. My father was born in the same town, and my mother is from a small village not far from Gdansk, in the western part of Poland. The three of us emigrated to Chicago in 1992 in search of a better life.

I was always very socially and politically aware during my childhood and that escalated even more when the US invaded Iraq in 2003. I got involved in the anti-war movement, far-left politics and organizing. My involvement in politics began with organizing local punk shows and donating the proceeds to various organizations- from women’s shelters in my hometown to grassroots support for victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. I always loved how music can inspire movements and organize young people around important socio-political issues.

I attended university in New York City at the New School, and that was where I really got my training in organizing. From working with Students for Democratic Society (SDS), to marching with Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) I met hundreds of dedicated young organizers and activists from all over the world whose passion and drive inspired me. When I moved back to Chicago, I got involved with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)  and the MSA on my campus which is what brought me to my growing interest in Islam.  After working for a time in the Islamic World Studies department at DePaul University and then later taking a short break- I was hired full time as the Senior Communications Coordinator at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Chicago).

My job consists of monitoring media for bias, editing an online newsmagazine (The Chicago Monitor), giving presentations to universities, and fighting hate and bigotry in any place I find it.

 

Give us your favorite quote and tell us why it means so much to you:

“Love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust.”-bell hooks. 

As someone who is involved in a lot of serious work, I need to remember to stay grounded- spiritually and emotionally. Love is something that is often seen as this grand romantic gesture between two people, but in reality- there are many manifestations of love. Self-love and self-care is something I take very seriously, and this quote touches on so many of those important qualities that make up ‘love’. I try to make sure I always tell the people in my life that matter most as often as I can that I love them. I was told once that we cannot truly love God until we love those around us and love ourselves first.

 

Islamic Perspective:

What Ayah of the Quran do you hold close to your heart? Why?
24:35 “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things.”

It was very hard for me to find just one ayah but as of recently this one has been in my mind quite a bit. When I read it the first time it did not resonate as much as it did after I went to jummah a few weeks ago and heard a great khutba by the chaplain at my alma mater, DePaul University.  One of the things the chaplain said was, “It’s easy to see the darkness. Many of us wonder, ‘where is the light? Where is the good in this world?’ We need to ask Allah swt to make US that light. Make US the inspiration for others to go and do good.” This quote really stuck with me and made me re-read the ayah many times to be able to contextualize it with a lot of the struggles I go through in my line of work and my personal life as well.

What Hadith do you wish more non-Muslims knew about? Why?
“None of you is a believer until (s)he loves for her/his sister/brother what (s)he loves for their own soul”

I wish all of humanity, whether Muslim, non-believer or of any other faith tradition would take this to heart. It’s like the Islamic equivalent to the “Golden Rule”.

 

The “Ten”:

1. What is your favorite book?
100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marques

2. Who inspires you?
This week alone I have drawn from the lives and wisdom of Fatima Zahra (s.a.), Assata Shakur, and Lila Abu-Lughod. I try to seek motivation and inspiration from a variety of sources- spiritual, academic and political.  I am also incredibly inspired by many of the strong women in my life-educators, activists and organizers who I see on a weekly basis.

3. Do you have a mentor? If so you can change it to mentor and what they taught you.
To always stay true to yourself and your beliefs no matter what obstacles you may have to overcome.

4. What advice would you give to your 13 year old self?
“Don’t put so much focus on your social life and how people perceive you but rather work on your future self and becoming the person you want to be”

5. What are your hopes for your daughter/son.
I don’t have any children at the moment but Insha’Allah if I meet the right person and decide to have a family I want my children to always remember to first and foremost learn to love. To love  each other, their Creator, and everyone around them. The social justice indoctrination will come later.

6. What is the biggest trial you went through in your life and how has that changed you?
I have been struggling with anxiety disorder for the past three years and it has never been easy. I have realized that by speaking out, I am able to bring hope and guidance to other young women who go through similar trials and hopefully together we can bring awareness and understanding to the seriousness of mental health issues in the community.

7. Any regrets?  
None whatsoever. Everything I have ever done has made me the person I am today and I say Alhamdullilah for that.

8. How do you stay grounded in your work?
This is a very difficult task. As I mentioned in previous answers, it’s incredibly important to practice self-care and self-love, and also never be afraid to ask for help. I am blessed to have a great community in Chicago and a support system that is always there for me when things get too hectic and I feel overwhelmed.

9. How do you bring about real change?
Emma Goldman said, “The most violent segment of society is ignorance.”  I think education is one of the most important ways we can bring about real change in our society, but it has to come from the grassroots. We cannot expect any change to occur in this country if the majority of people continue to “Otherize” that which is unfamiliar to them.

10.What do you hope to be remembered for?
I really don’t hope to be remembered, by name anyways. I just hope that I am able to continue working in the struggle to strive for true liberation for all oppressed people not just in Chicago or the US, but worldwide. I have been inspired by so many who came before me, if I am able to inspire just one person to continue this work, I have done my part.

 

Video Message from Agnieszka:

 

More About Agnieszka:

www.cairchicago.org

http://chicagomonitor.com/

my persona fb https://www.facebook.com/A.Dziewczyna

Facebook.com/cairchicago

https://twitter.com/chicagomonitor

twitter.com/cairchicago

twitter.com/huliganjetta48