An advisor to St. Jude’s ALSAC Multicultural Program Development, Suzy Mahjoub is a Tunisian-American woman of many traits. She discusses her professional journey that has led her to ALSAC, her passion for empowering women, her efforts in creating TAYP - the Tunisian American Young Professionals organization -, amongst other topics. As she works to end childhood cancer, Suzy radiates charisma and passion onto all of her surroundings. Be sure to follow her journey at the links below!
Interviewed by Mariam Khayata
For those who have yet to meet you, can you share a little about yourself?
I’m originally from Tunisia, where my family has for generations owned and operated an olive oil mill and an organic food business.
My passions are many, but they all come down to one common denominator: People. I am endlessly curious about people and their passions, their drive, their stories. I am a connector at my core, and I see beauty in bringing people of all different backgrounds together. I just absolutely love people!
My path to the United States, and eventually to Memphis and St. Jude, was a long and winding one. I originally came here, 12 years ago, with my brother to be with my mother and also to attend college. It was a leap of faith in many respects to come to the U.S. I did attend college here, at the University of Virginia. After college, while my brother returned home to Tunisia, I stayed and eventually took a job in Washington, D.C..
A charismatic and passionate people person, how did you find your calling in life?
I say it was by coincidence but honestly, it was a little luck and a lot of preparation that led me to be at the right place at the right time. There was a lot of experimenting with different jobs to find the right fit and understand what my skills were. It wasn’t until St. Jude and ALSAC that I realized my calling in life. I didn’t know what I was looking for until it found me.
Growing up, you’ve had close ties to Tunisia as you were born there and attended university there for some time. Would you say that the Arab Spring and Tunisia’s Jasmine revolution has affected you in a personal way?
Yes, it increased my faith in the Tunisian people and in the power of one voice/collective voice in making change happen.
Has it affected your perception of the world?
I would say the Jasmine Revolution has increased my faith in humanity. The events in Tunisia definitely opened my eyes to what my role in life should be – and gave me a sense of purpose and responsibility, be best representative of my home country in my host country. It also inspired me to think of different ways I could support the people around me by mentoring, listening, and sharing positive and uplifting stories and experiences. I am lucky to have been able to leverage my strength to build relationships and strive for inclusivity.
As a Tunisian-American who has delved deep into the fields of international relations, diplomacy, and economics, you are a cofounder of the Tunisian American Young Professionals (TAYP) organization. What is TAYP and what prompted you along with your colleagues to create it? What does it hope to accomplish?
TAYP is a network of Tunisian American professionals committed to fostering a strong economic, social, and cultural relationship between Tunisia and the United States to promote economic growth and development following Tunisia’s democratic transition. Through focused projects, networking opportunities, and dynamic forums and events, TAYP empowers businesses and individuals to forge new partnerships and create meaningful change.
As the co-founder of TAYP, I wanted to create a space for young Tunisian Americans to connect, grow, and make their mark in the world through networking and mentorship. Young professionals just starting out would be able to then pass along their wisdom, much like those I met did for me. I had many mentors in TAYP who helped shape my personal life and career, chiefs among them Mohamed and Mariem Malouche.
As a Tunisian-American Muslim woman, you are a champion for women empowerment, leaving many who’ve connected with you feeling inspired, motivated, and supported. What is your philosophy behind all of your efforts to empower the women around you?
There’s a well-known quote from Madeleine Albright that says “there is a special place in heaven for women who support other women.” Women bear on their shoulders the weight of so much: their families, their country, in all honesty, all of humanity. We ought to support each other. Together, we are stronger than we realize.
I hope to empower women to dream as big as I have and continue to. I’m a challenger by nature, summoning the strength to stand up to societal pressures and gender specific expectations. That inner empowerment allows me to help other women challenge the status quo, find their calling, and pursue their passions. I hope they realize that how happy and satisfied they are matters, and that they are the sole decision makers in this.
In 2017, Memphis was truly blessed to receive you as you became an ALSAC Liaison for Arab-American Marketing & Business Development and later an advisor for its Multicultural Program Development. How has your life journey led you to eventually work for ALSAC? What does your job entail?
My life journey, although I didn’t realize it at the time, perfectly prepared me for my future role at ALSAC. I started law school in Tunis under the French system, and then was at the University of Virginia for an economics degree and was part of a large Arab student organization focused on service, leadership, and sharing cultural traditions. I then attended the College of Europe, in Belgium, where I studied International Relations and Diplomacy, and focused my master’s thesis on the Diplomatic Actorness of Arab Diasporas in the EU. Upon my return to the U.S., I taught Arabic and French at the Diplomatic Language Services and coordinated International Visitors Leadership Programs led by the Department of State and Meridian International.
I was at a transitional point in my life when a recruiter from ALSAC reached out to me. I was intrigued by the story of Danny Thomas and the founding of St. Jude and ALSAC. I didn’t know Danny’s family was from Lebanon, or the rich history that Arab immigrants to the United States shared. The more I learned about how Danny believed the work of St. Jude would be a noble way of honoring his immigrant ancestors who had come to America, the more I felt this deep connection with St. Jude’s mission. I have always believed in the power of diasporas in making a difference in their host countries, and ALSAC/St. Jude and its U.S. and global impact was the greatest example and success story that I could look up to.
St. Jude turned me into a believer and helped me reconcile the ideas of science and faith. That I would be able to share the St. Jude story, as an immigrant, was vital for me, as it merged my background with Danny’s mission, following in the footsteps of the Arab Americans before me who banded together to support St. Jude while honoring their heritage.
Today, through my work, I get to tell the St. Jude story to fellow Arab and Muslim Americans across the U.S. and I cannot be prouder of this humbling role I get to play in furthering the mission of St. Jude: Finding Cures. Saving Lives.
What have you enjoyed about Memphis and its greater community? What do you believe our community must do to allow the city to continue to improve and flourish?
Memphis is very much community based. I love that everyone mobilizes for everyone, whether it be at the Pride Parade, events at Shelby Farms and downtown, the farmers markets, and gatherings from every faith—the community rallies together for the best of our city. The St. Jude Memphis Walk/Run during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is a shining example of people from all backgrounds coming together to support the mission of St. Jude. It is an event where groups, organizations, and families unite against childhood cancer and I believe this testifies to the power and feeling of togetherness that Memphis brings out in people. It is definitely my favorite event in Memphis. I want to encourage our readers to join the 901 Ummah Team for the St. Jude Walk/Run through this link: walkrun.stjude.org/901ummah2019
In order to allow our city to flourish and improve, I believe we need to have more culture-sharing opportunities so that everyone can learn from one another, and then through creating a dialogue, we can discover that we aren’t all that different after all.
Can you share any words of wisdom or advice that you have for readers who may want to do similar work as you in their future or for those who are still searching for their calling in life?
Believe in yourself and in the power of your dreams and voice. Follow your passions and listen to your instincts. Build a support system that believes in you and will lift you up. Dare to take unconventional paths and experiment as much and as long as you can. Do not settle for what is comfortable and seek challenges in every aspect of your life. Most importantly, be proud of who you are, where you came from, and the community you belong to.
The true meaning of community lies in reciprocity. You should show up for them, whoever “them” may be, whenever they need you, and they will show up for you. To me, this is what 901 Ummah is all about: a beautiful community worth cherishing and supporting in every step of the way.