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Oral History Interview with Debbie Almontaser, May 14, 2018

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Debbie Almontaser discusses the aftermath of her resignation as principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn, including successfully suing the city for violating her right to free speech and discriminating against her for her Muslim faith and Arab heritage; experiencing a subsequent outpouring of community support; and successfully defending herself against a retaliatory lawsuit by the city alleging defamation. She also speaks about the 2016 presidential election, especially regarding her support for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton; her speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and her community's reaction to Republican nominee Donald Trump's victory. In addition, she elaborates at length about increased activism among Yemeni New Yorkers in the wake of the Trump administration's Executive Order 13769 (colloquially known as "the Muslim ban"), including coordinating the Yemeni Bodega Strike with businessman Zaid Nagi at Brooklyn Borough Hall in 2017 and serving as board secretary with the Yemeni American Merchants Association. Debbie Almontaser was also interviewed on February 10, 2018 for this collection. Interview conducted by Zaheer Ali.

Biographical / Historical

Debbie Almontaser was born in Yemen. Her family immigrated to the United States when she was a toddler and settled in Buffalo, New York. She married her husband and moved to the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1980. Her involvement with her child's primary school inspired her to pursue a career in education, eventually becoming the founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn. She also became a prolific activist, including coordinating New York City's first Arab-American Heritage Week in 2005; founding the Bridging Cultures Group, Inc. in 2015; supporting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign; and organizing the Yemeni Bodega Strike at Brooklyn Borough Hall in 2017. Throughout her work as both an educator and an activist, she put significant focus on multicultural and interfaith partnerships, also founding and participating in a number of groups and initiatives aimed at increasing empathy across racial, ethnic, and religious lines. She earned a bachelor of the arts in English and world religions from St. Francis College in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn; a master of the sciences in multicultural education and reading from Adelphi University in Manhattan; and a doctor of education in urban education and leadership from Fordham University in the Bronx.

Conditions Governing Access

This interview can be accessed onsite at the Center for Brooklyn History's Othmer Library and online at the Oral History Portal.

Center for Brooklyn History
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201