A native Memphian and a graduate of the University of Memphis, Sameer Mansour serves as the director of 901 Ummah, the commissioner of the Muslim Basketball League of Memphis, a board member of the Memphis Islamic Center, an advisor to the Al-Anhar Institute, and a regulatory affairs specialist at Smith & Nephew. He discusses what prompted him and the original founders of 901 Ummah to establish the organization, how he prevents himself and his passion from experiencing burnout, and what his future hopes are for the greater Memphis community.
Interviewed by Mariam Khayata
What prompted you to pursue a degree in biomedical engineering?
Growing up, I was trying to decide what path I wanted to take for a career and I just knew that no matter the career, I wanted to be in a field where I could feel like I’m making a significant impact on people’s lives and that it would be beneficial to more individuals than just myself.
My mom had a degree in Biochemistry and my dad was a Biomedical Engineer. During my childhood, he would always bring these implants and parts home that were so intriguing to me because I thought he was building robots for a living. When it came down to deciding my senior year, I chose to do Pre-Med and Biomedical Engineering as my 1A and 1B options because I had two great examples in my parents but also because they were growing fields at the time that both fit my idea of helping others. I had all intentions to go through with Medical School but as I went through college, I realized that I loved the more hands on approach that came with engineering and Alhamdulilah decided to pursue that.
901 Ummah was officially established towards the end of 2014, beginning of 2015. What is the story behind the organization? What prompted you and the original founders to take action and initiate 901 Ummah?
When you look at the original founders of 901 Ummah, we were all born and raised in Memphis or lived a large portion of our lives here. We were all part of a generation that was lacking in many resources that are just now starting to become available to our community. There were perhaps three masajid and the Muslim Community was still in the stage of establishing itself. There wasn’t anything really relevant to help cultivate anyone’s Muslim identity. There was a large demographic of middle school students to young professionals that just seemed unengaged or missing in the community. We [the original founders] wanted to help change that and ensure that future generations have something that they can feel they belong to and call their own. In addition, we noticed that there were many talented Muslims in Memphis with nowhere to invest their skills and passion or more often than not, they didn’t know what their skills and passion were. We decided to establish 901 Ummah to help with both these dilemmas: to provide our youth and young adults with the proper resources needed to develop their talents and grow as American Muslims, and to also give back to the community through their skills. The result of our ideas is more than we could have ever imagined. We’re paving the way for the future leaders of our community and have empowered them to become more invested in the city and community than ever before.
As director of 901 Ummah, commissioner of the Muslim Basketball League of Memphis, board member of Memphis Islamic Center, advisor to Al Anhar Institute, and regulatory affairs specialist at Smith & Nephew, how do you balance and manage all of your responsibilities? What prevents you from burning out?
It’s funny I’ve been getting this question a lot this year. When I read everything you’ve listed, the majority all fall under the same general area: community. I think that’s important because it’s what I love to do. I’m passionate about serving my community so I’m self-motivated to make it work in that aspect. I’ve always believed that you’ll make time for what matters to you so prioritizing is an important aspect of it. My experience at Smith & Nephew has also helped with my organization not only at work but with my community work as well. Working in a corporate environment, everything is structured and I’ve applied what I’ve developed there into everything else I do. I’d be lost without my calendars, to do lists, reminders, and deadlines.
One of the most important factors that has allowed me to be so involved in the community, however, is who I’ve surrounded myself with. Surrounding yourself with the right people changes everything. I feel that I’m not in this alone and that makes a world of a difference. In the early stages of each organization or anything that you initiate, there’s a great deal of work to get it off the ground but once you have individuals that share the same values and motivation as you, things come together like clockwork. Life isn’t meant to be walked alone. It’s important to have others to bounce ideas and doubts as well as share successes and failures with. That support opens the door for many opportunities and plays a large role in avoiding burnout. Becoming self-aware of my limitations and reading when I need to take a break has also helped me a great deal. I don’t mean taking a year long hiatus from everything but creating time for myself throughout the year such after a busy period or when things have become overwhelming. Taking a step back and giving myself a breather from the daily routine to relax alone, spend time with my family and friends, or get away for a weekend. That has always helped me get back into everything re-aligned and re-energized.
What role does faith play in your dedication and willingness to continue giving back to the community?
Faith is my all-encompassing motivator for continuing to serve the community. Islam isn’t spread by us just sitting listening to lectures and going home feeling good about ourselves. It’s also about knowledge and the action we put into motion. You can tell somebody you love them with all your heart but what actually validates that love is how you love them. I believe the work we do for the community in itself is a form of worship, with the right intention of course. Because of that, over time, serving has strengthened my faith as a Muslim. I came to appreciate my faith more when I involved myself in the community. When we read the Quran or pray, we have this sense of tranquility and when it’s missing in our lives, our hearts feel uneasiness. That’s the same feeling that I experience when it relates to working within the community.
What are your hopes for the greater Memphis community along with the local Muslim community in the next coming years?
It’s so exciting to think about the future of Memphis and our Muslim community because there’s so much to look forward to. The city of Memphis and the Muslim community are both growing and one of the most unique assets we have here is our human capital. Almost every person who comes through Memphis always points to the collection of people that make up our community as to what makes it so special. So for one, I hope that as we continue to grow we are able to hold onto that quality of great people.
In regards to the Muslim community specifically, we are starting to see a dynamic shift in this next phase moving on from building buildings to focusing on people, which I’m thrilled about. We have an incredible amount of talent in the city and that branches to our Muslim community as well. That’s why I hope over the next few years we start seeing that talent flourish in positions which will take our city and community to the next level and to see the next generation build upon what our parents built here.
Lastly, I hope we continue to support one another. There are so many organizations doing amazing work across the city and we should ensure their longevity and growth. Our generation doesn’t focus on belonging to one particular institution. We understand that it’s all connected and that the success of one means the overall success of everyone.
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for readers who want to do similar community work as you in their future?
Find what you love and give that back to the community through your own perspective and ideas and don't be afraid to step out of the norm. We always end up having this one lane way of thinking about how things are supposed to be because that’s the way they’ve been done for years. Your unique way of contributing, however, may improve the status quo so it is necessary for you to put in the work and share your talents with others. We need each other to share what Allah SWT has blessed us with. And for those who think they have nothing to contribute, they’re mistaken, they do, you do. You just need to search for what that is. We all have a purpose and the best way to maximize that is through giving it back to your community. That's how a community grows and flourishes. It happens by the collaboration of all our individual efforts. As we grow as individuals, the city and community grows alongside us and that's a beautiful thing.
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