February 2023 NAC Member Spotlight: Sonya Shakir

Sonya Shakir

NAC member Sonya Shakir has been a neighbor to Case Western Reserve her whole life. She grew up in Cleveland’s Ward 7 and today, she lives in Fairfax with her high school-aged twins. Over the years, she says that the university’s relationship with the community has changed for the better. “Growing up, we would take school field trips to University Circle, but I didn’t feel the sense of welcoming then that I do now. Today, there’s more equity, more inclusion and more promotion of opportunities to engage,” she says. 

When Shakir isn’t working at the City of Cleveland as a project coordinator in the Department of Public Works she is defining what it means to be a community caretaker. In addition to her role as a community representative on the board of the Legal Aid Society and as a grants reviewer for Neighborhood Connections, she also helps her father’s family non-profit, which provides meals and essentials for seniors and for those in need. 

Taking care of the community is something that was ingrained in Shakir at an early age. As a young person, Shakir watched her parents feed those who didn’t have enough food to eat and, every so often, bring someone into the family home who was struggling with housing insecurity. She didn’t understand why her parents were so willing to help strangers, until one day, she found herself doing the same thing. 

It happened after she came through a challenging personal time in her life. In 2008, Shakir’s mother had passed away and, at the same time, Shakir was the mother to two young twins, a caretaker to siblings with special needs, and she was finding her way out of a bad relationship. Shakir didn’t see herself as someone who needed help until she experienced what it was to be overwhelmed. 

She found solace, help and support from the Fatima Family Center and from other nonprofit organizations who provided her with the services and support she needed to move forward successfully.

“It was a lightbulb moment for me,” she says. “I didn’t think of myself as someone who needed those services until I did. But once I had that experience and knew what was available in my community as support, I became passionate about helping people. I was so grateful that something negative in my life turned into something positive.”

Today, Shakir is a proud first-generation college graduate who earned her degree in management from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2016. In the future, she hopes to attend Case Western Reserve for graduate school to earn her master’s in nonprofit management.

“I enjoy being engaged in the community and sharing about my experiences,” she says. “It’s good to pay that joy forward so that others want to be engaged, too.”