STAR OF BROOKLYN: Katherine Khatari

Katherine Khatari – Co-founder and Vice President of the Yemeni American Association of Bay Ridge

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Khatari became involved in local activism in the weeks following September 11, 2001, after her daughter was harassed while taking her son to Shore Road Park. “They were telling her she should take her hijab off and raise her son normally and not as a terrorist,” Khatari recalled. The incident made her want to do something about the rampant inaccuracies circulating about Muslims. Khatari joined Community Board 10 subsequently, and she is still a member. Two years ago, she helped found the Yemeni American Association of Bay Ridge. In addition to projects like registering Yemeni Americans to vote or holding clothing drives for the people of Yemen, Khatari says the organization’s is focused on local outreach. “Our main objective is working hand-in-hand with the community and reaching out so we get to know each other better,” she said. Khatari feels that if more Americans knew Muslim people personally, the country could curb its racist sentiments. “When people see that there’s no difference between us, that’s the greatest [way] to change minds,” Khatari said.

PERSONAL: Born and raised in Flatlands, Khatari has lived in Bay Ridge for 19 years. Although she is of Irish decent, she has been married to a Yemeni man for 33 years. The couple has six children and two grandchildren, all of whom live in Bay Ridge. A convert to Islam, Khatari recalls the temptation to Americanize her style after 9/11. However, it was the sacrifices her father and three previous generations of military personnel in her family had made that strengthened her resolve. “I could take my hijab off,” Khatari said. “I could be as Irish as the next Irish American, but that would defeat the purpose of what my father and my father’s father fought for.”

GREATEST GOAL: A self-described stubborn fighter for equal rights, Khatari dreams of a day where the fear of Islam that has defined the last decade is a thing of the past. She describes aspirations of “everybody sitting down for breakfast without suspicion in their eyes.” Yemeni Americans are assimilating in every strata of society, she says, so we should learn to live in unity. “We are going to be part of the Sanitation Department, the Police Department, the Fire Department, part of politics,” she said. “We’re here and we have to live in harmony with each other and support each other, no matter what we are and what religion we are.”

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