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Celebrate Diversity Month

Celebrate Diversity Month aims to create a deeper understanding of others by celebrating and honoring differences and similarities during the month of April. As an agency committed to creating a better path forward by lifting humanity up with support and compassion, diversity, acceptance and inclusion are deeply embedded in all we do here at DePaul. Our agency proudly serves and employs individuals from varied backgrounds and of many ethnicities.

In honor of Celebrate Diversity Month, Community Living Staff Salam Ismael raises awareness about his heritage and culture.

When did you come to the US and from where?

I arrived in the United States from Iraq in 2015. Between Iraq and the US I lived in Turkey for one year.

What culture do you identify with?

Arabic culture. Fourteen countries in the world are majority Arab and the culture is comprised of many clans. My clan originated in Yemen and eventually moved into Iraq. Our culture strongly overlaps with the religion practiced by most Arabs, Islam.

Who are some inspirational figures from your culture? 

  • Antar was a strong and wise man who escaped slavery.
  • The Prophet Muhammad was an Arab leader and the founder of Islam.
  • Jesus is an important prophet in Islam and was an Arab.

Americans associate Iraq with the war that the United States initiated in 2003.

What should we know?

Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, is a very civilized city with highly educated people. Mesopotamia, the first civilization in the world, was in what is now Iraq. Inventions such as the wheel, telescope and batteries came from Mesopotamia.

What field did you study in Iraq?

I am an electrical engineer. I am unable to work here as an engineer as the college I graduated from, and my records, were destroyed.

When did your life change in Iraq?

In 2014 I was working at an Iraqi Air Force Academy when it was attacked by ISIS. On that day, 1,700 people were killed. They were my friends, family. I survived the massacre. People say I was lucky to have survived. When I think about it now, I still feel two ways. I am glad that my mother was spared the heartbreak of my death, but it would have been an honor to die with them. Life was very dangerous.

One day I was playing dominoes at a café with friends. A group of men came in and one pointed to me asking that I come play with him. My friend was nervously waving at me to do as the man said. After the game my friend told me the man was an ISIS leader. I feel like I am a survivor.

What do you like about working at DePaul?

I like helping people. I really like all the residents and my co-workers here. My uncle is a well-respected psychiatrist in Iraq and I grew up learning about mental health from him.

What can non-Arab people do to learn more about Arab culture?  

  • Read the English version of The Quran to learn about Arab history.
  • Learn about the Arab language. It is very rich, descriptive and beautiful.
  • Netflix has many films from the Arab world. You can see regular Arab life without the stereotypes of Arabs as terrorists and savages that you see in Western movies.