Jun 16, 2022
Shahana Hanif was politicized early in life. The child of Bangladeshi immigrants, Hanif was just 10 years old on September 11 and came of age during a time of increased daily discrimination against people who looked like her.
“The Brooklyn I know is [when I was] 10 years old, 9/11 happens and literally living the rest of the years to come with this fire to make a better democracy,” Hanif told Brooklyn Magazine. “Of course when I’m 10 I wasn’t able to think of the big picture, but I recognized that being Muslim meant something to many people.”
Born and raised in Kensington, where she still lives today, Hanif herself means something to a lot of people. She is the first female Muslim city council member, representing District 39, a swath of Brooklyn that is both gentrified and gentrifying. Her district includes the neighborhood where she grew up, as well as Borough Park, Windsor Terrace, Park Slope, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill and the Columbia Waterfront.
Hers is a city council that is both barrier breaking and historic for its diversity: It is the first majority-female class and includes the largest contingent of Asian American members in history. She was tapped to chair the city’s immigration committee.
The goal, she says, is to “bring our community together around issues that impact working families across issues not just specific to their immigration status, but around education issues, around healthcare, domestic violence and so many other things.”
She has already been a vocal advocate for police reform, for food delivery workers — whom she is helping to organize — and for more accessibility in public spaces, including better cycling conditions.
And although she is just 31, the road to City Hall was hardly a cakewalk. At 17 she was diagnosed with the chronic autoimmune disease lupus, which disproportionately affects Black and brown women, and would over time galvanize her to become interested in community infrastructure and organizing. For example, Hanif belongs to the Bangladeshi Feminist Collective, a group engaged in dialogue around Bangladeshi feminist movements and advocacy for women in her community.
“I always wanted to leave Brooklyn,” Hanif said in January, when she was a guest on “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast.” “I always wanted to leave because the neighborhood did not have me in mind around our park spaces, around our open spaces, no youth centers, after-school programming that would get slashed annually … Lupus did that. Lupus was like, ‘Your ass is sitting right here. You’re not going anywhere.’”
And as long as she’s here, she seems intent on making a difference to her community.