Forum Profiles: Bridging the Gap with Soumaya Khalifa

Feb 1, 2022

Each quarter, The Forum opens a window in to the life of a DEI change maker and leader. Our quarterly Forum Profiles is guest written by student and emerging writers from our home organization Augsburg University. This quarter’s issues is guest written by Augsburg student Jacey Mismash. and features Forum Diversity Awards 2021 Honorable Mention Soumaya Khalifa, Founder and Executive Director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau Atlanta, Georgia.

Featured image: Soumaya Khalifa speaking at Islamic Speakers Bureau Atlanta, GA.

Nails? Cut. Uniform? Proper. Speaking French? Required. 

This was the daily reality for Soumaya Khalifa, a young girl attending a French Catholic school in Egypt. It was 1969 when her mother accepted a job in Texas as a lead researcher at Southwest Medical School In Dallas— Khalifa, at only twelve years old, was moving to an entirely new country.

“I remember I was in tears,” said Khalifa, “it’s because I [was] going to an English-speaking culture.” Growing up, French culture and ideals had played a dominant role in Soumaya Khalifa’s upbringing, mainly due to the lingering effects of French colonization throughout Egypt. “Reflecting on it, I had been indoctrinated that French culture was much, much better than those people who speak English,” she explained, “and I was upset that I might lose that privilege.” 

soumaya khalifa

Soumaya Khalifa, Founder/Executive Director Islamic Speakers Bureau Atlanta, GA

Since having to move countries at such a young age, Soumaya Khalifa has been extremely familiar with the effects that one’s culture has on their perception of the world and their general interactions with the people around them. During her first night in the United States, Soumaya Khalifa decided to get herself ready to go to the pool of the Travelodge hotel her family was staying in 

“I’m trying to go out, just to meet people and I did not speak English but a few words, I only spoke French and Arabic and that’s it. I remember the struggle of trying to communicate and make friends,” reflects Khalifa. Soumaya Khalifa’s experience in the American school system was full of adjustments and changes as well. From the second she walked into the classroom, she noticed something was different— the benches she once shared with her old classmates were replaced with single-seat desks. “I didn’t have very good luck [because] I went to the desk from the side that had that little bar… I looked at it and said ‘How in the world do I get in there?’” Khalifa chuckled— the story of figuring out how to sit at a new desk is kind of funny. But it also tells the story of a young girl in a culture completely unfamiliar to her—  one where individualism was everywhere, even in the choice of classroom desks. It was experiences like those that shaped Khalifa’s future ventures, whether she knew it at the time or not.

In 2007, Soumaya Khalifa started Khalifa Consulting, which is described as a “strategic intercultural and leadership consulting firm” on the firm’s website. Leaders of diverse workforces or who are moving into a space with a different dominant culture can come to the firm to learn how to work best within different cultural contexts. 

“I started Khalifa Consulting while I had a full-time job,” says Khalifa, “it was a nonprofit that I did on the side. I wanted to reinvent myself in a way that was comfortable, that brought me to everyone all of the time.”

That’s exactly what she did. 

Soumaya speaks at the Johns Creek Police Dept. in Atlanta, GA.

Soumaya speaks at the Johns Creek Police Dept. in Atlanta, GA.

Khalifa Consulting isn’t the only place where Soumaya Khalifa began to explore the impact her personal journey and identity could have on others. Six years prior to starting her own firm, Khalifa had teamed up with other Muslim leaders to form the Islamic Speakers Bureau (ISB) of Atlanta. The idea began to blossom in 1997, and after years of struggling to find time to dedicate to this idea, the Bureau ultimately came to fruition in August of 2001— just a few weeks before 9/11. 

“Every time I think about it, it really makes me very sad, and very angry,” Khalifa pauses, “and it’s been 20 years.” The tragedies of that day left many with more questions than answers— within days, many community members began to reach out to the Islamic Speakers Bureau in order to hear from people of the Islamic faith. Khalifa knew that the ISB had to move forward with their mission of education, especially in the time after September 11th.

“I don’t think they really belong to any religion because if they did, they wouldn’t have done what they did,” states Khalifa, regarding the terrorists of 9/11. “Not only did they kill and murder 3,000 people, innocent people, and some of them were Muslims,” says Khalifa, “but they hijacked a whole religion.” 

With help from the dedicated volunteers at the ISB, Khalifa and her team were able to not only educate people about Islam— she was able to create and maintain strong cross-cultural bonds in a time where it was truly needed. A time of uncertainty, pain, and grief turned to one of healing, learning, and understanding. 

Soumaya Khalifa’s dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion has offered the chance for so many people to learn more about themselves, their peers, and the world around them. She continues to inspire nuanced conversations surrounding cross-cultural communication, using her personal journey as a tool to better understand others and their needs. By bringing her authentic self to every interaction she has, Soumaya Khalifa reminds us all that our lives and experiences can be tools to further educate ourselves and others— creating a more accepting and understanding world in the process.

jacey mismashJacey Mismash is a senior at Augsburg University majoring in Communications Arts and Literature with a licensure in Secondary Education and a minor in Creative Writing. Learn more about Jacey here.



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