Growing up in Oklahoma in the late 1990s, there were not many opportunities to promote and enhance leadership skills within the American Muslim community. Mosques were doing a great job at preparing many individuals for spiritual leadership, and providing social services to their local community, but a void existed.

After high school I became a member of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at my local university but, despite the great experiences in getting involved in our communities, the MSA did not prepare us for long-term activism and involvement outside of college. What we were truly lacking was a program that would give us the tools needed to feel empowered and become leaders in our communities.

It is often said that the youth are our future, a notion that you seldom find anyone argue against. In order for the youth to be our future, however, we must empower them to realize their full potential in becoming the leaders of tomorrow. Programs must be implemented to teach young adults the skills necessary to be an active part of their community in Oklahoma and across America. Young Muslims, in particular, will benefit greatly from programs that intertwine an understanding of leadership from both spiritual and organizational perspectives.

Communities across the United States have worked tirelessly to implement programs that will prepare young Muslims to be the leaders of tomorrow. Many of these programs, unfortunately, miss the mark in terms of implementation, funding, resources, or preparation. In the midst of these varied attempts, one program has emerged as a model setting the bar for Muslim youth empowerment in the United States. The Muslim Youth Leadership Symposium (MYLS) was brought to Oklahoma in 2009 and continues in 2012 with its fourth annual program. Young individuals from all over the Heartland have participated and benefited from the lessons and skills obtained through the MYLS program, empowering them to take their new-found knowledge back to their respective communities and implement it. MYLS has found a balance in fostering an understanding in young Muslims of what it truly means to be an American Muslim, and provides these youth with a proactive agenda for positive activism.

As the longest running program of its kind in the state of Oklahoma, MYLS has and will continue to provide leaders and activists in our community for years to come. Already we have seen positive results in MYLS participants as they move into leadership roles in their respective communities, pioneer new programs and organizations, and flourish in their academics and careers. In the long run, MYLS participants will have the capabilities to evoke positive changes in our society and be model American Muslim citizens.

– Adam Soltani is a 2012 MYLS Captain. He will lead a workshop titled “Leadership: believing in the WHY, not WHAT.” MYLS will take place July 13 – 15 at Oklahoma City University.