When youth have the opportunity to live a safe, confident life and feel supported by their community, their resilience to many dangers, including extremist ideology, is increased.
By giving a voice to families and friends whose loved ones have been involved in extremism, we are are able to share the wisdom they’ve gained, learn what the warning signs are, and encourage others to seek help.
Melvin’s family has lived in Memphis for generations, and he is proud of his hometown’s history and culture. He founded Blues City Tours to introduce that heritage to visitors to Memphis, and he has served as a guide to thousands of tourists, sharing insights on Blues music and more. Melvin comes from a family where many of his siblings and relatives served in the U.S. military. After his son Carlos was recruited by violent extremists and murdered a soldier in Arkansas, Melvin channeled his pain into advocacy. He has testified to Congress and been featured by an array of national media outlets, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and CNN.
A native of Memphis, Monica studied Mass Communications and Marketing at Stillman College in Alabama and is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She previously worked at The Dallas Morning News and is now Director of Business Development & Marketing at Blues City Tours. Monica witnessed her younger brother Carlos drift into extremism and struggled to intervene before he committed an act of violence. She is the mother of two young boys, who can now only visit their uncle in jail.
Saliha was devastated when in 2013 her 19-year son Sabri, the oldest of her three children, suddenly left their home in Belgium for Syria to join ISIS. She tried to convince him to return, but he died only 3 months later. Refusing to allow Sabri’s death to be in vain, she has become a powerful voice of education and prevention through her organization, SAVE Belgium.
Nicola Benyahia has extensive experience within the social care sector, spanning over 25 years with extensive work in the context of mental health provision. She is a fully qualified, registered BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy) counselor with specific experience in mental health, brain injury and most recently working and counseling young people aged 14 to 25 years old. As a mother personally affected by the impact of violent radicalization processes in her own family, she decided to give her own experiences a voice and recently stepped forward for other families sharing similar problems.
Abdirizak is the Director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center in Minneapolis, a grassroots initiative to empower the Somali-American community. He founded the organization in 2008 after his nephew Burhan suddenly dropped out of Minneapolis’s Roosevelt High School to join the terror group Al-Shabab in Somalia, dying in battle several months later. Abdirizak has testified to Congress, met with top law enforcement officials, and been profiled by the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, CNN, and NPR. He is a pioneer in community engagement efforts to guide young Americans away from extremism.
Julie is a Native-American performance artist, a storyteller and a puppeteer. She uses art as a source of healing and reconciliation by telling stories about people that live on the fringe. She is a recipient of Minnesota State Arts Board grants for her creation “Hidden History” and has worked with L.A. Music Center, The Minnesota History Center, and The Fergus Falls Center for the Arts. Her son Troy was recruited by Al-Shabab militants and died in Somalia in 2009. Julie continues to wrestle with her son’s fatal choices. She urges parents to talk to at-risk children, warning them that their initial idealism can be exploited by extremists.
Christianne is an accountant and business manager by training and founded the Hayat Canada Family Support Foundation in 2014. As a mother personally affected by the impact of violent radicalization processes in her own family she decided to give her own experiences a voice and step forward for other families sharing similar problems. Christianne has been featured in international media on various topics related to prevention and intervention with violent radicalization and is now counselling other families. She is also coordinates the mothers network “Mothers for Life” with Daniel Koehler, which brings together mothers of radicalized jihadis to give them a stronger voice globally.
Christopher Buckley of LaFayette, GA is an Afghanistan and Iraqi war veteran. When he returned from Iraq, he joined the Georgia White Knights as an Imperial Nighthawk, because their anti-Muslim and racist values were consistent with his worldview after returning from war. Arno Michaelis, a former white power skinhead, and Dr. Heval Mohamed Kelli, a Kurdish Muslim refugee, were able to teach Chris the error of his ways and helped bring him out of the movement. Today, he volunteers at The Haven in Georgia, a local organization that helps homeless and drug addicts. He also gives motivational speeches, trying to spread awareness and educate the public about the dangers of white supremacist extremism. Chris now works with Dr. Kelli on a program called Help, Heal, Love; where they work to repair flawed thinking in hate groups and spread a message of love and healing. He also created a deradicalization program designed specifically with veterans in mind, but is geared to work with all manners of hate and extremist ideology.
Melissa Buckley is Christopher Buckley’s wife and a key person in helping her husband leave the Ku Klux Klan. She realized that the KKK was damaging to Chris and their children and wanted a healthier path for the well-being of her entire family. She searched online to try and find someone to help her get Chris out of the KKK, and found Arno Michaelis, a former white power skinhead and Parents for Peace advisory board member. Over a several month period, Melissa worked with Arno to help pull Chris out of the dangerous extremism he had become involved with. Thanks to the support of Melissa and Arno, Chris is now an inspirational model that spreads awareness about the dangers of white supremacist extremism, and teaches others how to help their family members who have become involved with extremism.
Daryl is an international recording artist, actor and leader of The Daryl Davis Band. As a race relations expert, Daryl has received acclaim for his book, Klan-Destine Relationships and his documentary Accidental Courtesy from many respected sources including CNN, NBC, Good Morning America, TLC, NPR, The Washington Post, and many others. He is also the recipient of numerous awards including the Elliott-Black Award, the MLK Award and the Bridge Builder Award among many others. Filled with exciting encounters and sometimes amusing anecdotes, Daryl’s impassioned lectures leave an audience feeling empowered to confront their own prejudices and overcome their fears.
Dr. Deparice-Okomba is Executive Director of the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence (CPRLV) in Montreal. A political scientist and recognized expert in intercultural relations, radicalization, terrorism, discrimination, and community policing, he was responsible for social issues for ten years with the Montreal police service. He is also a lecturer on terrorism and emergency management at several universities.
Marik Fetouh is the Deputy Mayor of Bordeaux, France. Educated in public health and law, Fetouh has dedicated his career as a public servant to addressing issues like diversity, equality, and discrimination. He is now responsible for overseeing the city’s Centre for Action and Prevention Against Radicalization of Individuals (CAPRI).
TM Garret Schmid, publicly known as TM Garret, is a German-American author, producer, filmmaker, marketing expert, radio personality, human rights activist and founder of C.H.A.N.G.E, a Memphis-based non-profit organization which engages in community outreach programs, food drives, seminars, anti-racism campaigns and anti-violence campaigns. He is also the founder and organizer of the annual Memphis Peace Conference, which includes an Inter-Faith and a Community Panel and was first held at Withers Collection Museum and Gallery in Memphis on September 29, 2018.
A clinical psychologist educated at the University of Nice, Anne-Laurence contributes to the regions effort to prevent and counter extremism through her work for the Association EntrAutres and the Alpes-Maritimes Prefecture. Her responsibilities include training and supervising frontline workers, facilitating groups for families who have experienced or are concerned about the radicalization of a relative, and running prevention workshops for students and their parents at local schools.
A mother of eight, currently working for Voice of East African Women, Deqa has served the Minneapolis community as an advocate for victims of domestic abuse since 2004. As someone who devoted her life to helping prevent violence, Deqa was shocked when her son Abdirizak was arrested in 2015, charged with being part of a conspiracy to join ISIS. Even before her son’s arrest, Deqa was speaking out about the dangers of youth being recruited into violent extremism. In the months after his arrest, Abdirizak expressed remorse for his mistakes, first to his mother and then publicly in an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes. Deqa is faithfully supporting him as he serves his prison sentence, grateful he is alive and encouraged by his new desire to warn other young people against taking this dangerous path.
Latifa is the President of the Imad Association for Youth and Peace, a grassroots organization in France promoting inter-religious understanding and nurturing young leaders. The association is named after Latifa’s late son Imad, a French soldier who was murdered in 2012 by Muhammad Merah during an extended terror spree. Vowing to dedicate her life to peace between religions and peoples, Latifa works in housing projects, prisons, and schools to engage those at risk of falling into extremism. She is the author of the book “Mort Pour la France,” a testimonial about her son’s service, and appears regularly in the French media.
Tania Joya is a former Islamist and ex-wife of an ISIS commander. She was born and grew up in northwest London in the United Kingdom as a devout Muslim. After struggling to integrate in London as a teen, Tania radicalized and ultimately married an American-born Muslim convert named John Georgelas. While pregnant with their fourth child, he forced her and their children to travel to Syria and joined ISIS. She quickly became disillusioned with ISIS and its radical ideology, and escaped with her and her three children to the United States. Today, Tania is an activist that works to educate and rehabilitate extremists, and prevent more youth from radicalizing into dangerous ideologies.
Elizabeth Moore was born and raised in Scarborough, Ontario. While attending high school, she was introduced to the white supremacist group, The Heritage Front. Moved by feelings of anger and ignorance about the racial, cultural and economic tensions in her school, she embraced the racist-right. Ultimately, after much soul searching, and with the assistance of Bernie Farber and the Canadian Jewish Congress, Elizabeth cut ties with the racist right. Since then, Elizabeth has participated in numerous anti-Fascist education initiatives, reaching millions. She has worked on anti-racist films, multimedia educational initiatives, and contributed to textbooks and a government report in an effort to educate people about the dangers of hate groups. Elizabeth is currently exploring new ideas and developing avenues to continue her educational and artistic endeavors.
Arno co-founded one of the largest racist skinhead organizations in America and was once the lead singer of the hate-metal band Centurion. Today he is a motivational speaker promoting tolerance and inter-racial understanding. A single parent, Arno has transformed his earlier hatred into a passion for coexistence. His book “My Life after Hate” describes this remarkable transformation, and his writing and speaking draws on his own journey to help protect young Americans from hateful ideologies. He is a contributor to the project “Serve 2 Unite” and has published widely, including in the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune.
Born and raised in Canada, Mubin Shaikh grew up with two conflicting and competing cultures. In 2004, he was recruited by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and worked several classified infiltration operations on the internet, in chat-protected forums and on the ground with human networks. He is now an external SME (Subject Matter Expert) on national security and counterterrorism to the Command Staff of CENTCOM, the United Nations Security Council & Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate and trains police, intelligence and special operations forces on relevant topics.
Pardeep is the co-founder of Serve 2 Unite, an organization that empowers student leaders to build inclusive, nonviolent climates in their schools and communities. Pardeep co-founded the organization as a way to heal from the murder of his father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, the president of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin who was gunned down by a white supremacist during an attack on the temple on August 5, 2012. A former Milwaukee Police Officer and high school teacher and current counselor for victims of trauma, Pardeep has become a powerful voice against hate crimes and violence. He is the father of four children.
Souley is a ResearchFellow at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. He previously taught mathematics at the College of the Holy Cross and contributed to radiological imaging projects at UMass Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He now brings this technical expertise and data science background to the Chan School’s ongoing work of evaluating programs aimed at countering ideologically motivated violence.
Like her mother Carole, Monica played a big role in the life of her niece Nicole. She remembers Nicole in her younger years as someone who always “stepped in to help the underdog,” and she thinks this desire to help those weaker and less fortunate may have been exploited by extremists who helped her travel to Syria. Monica hopes that more people who have lost loved ones can come together to support each other through Parents for Peace. Today, Monica takes care of Nicole’s young nephew and enjoys volunteering in the annual local Toys for Tots drive.
Michelle is the founder of NISA, the National Islamic Sisters Association. A grandmother and native of Philadelphia, she became a Muslim in the 1970s and has been dismayed to see the effects of extremist influences in various North American communities. The problem became personal when her own son fell under the sway of extremists in Ottawa and, in 2014, was even briefly arrested. She has spoken out against extremist ideology and is involved in various interfaith and anti-extremist initiatives.