José Acevedo is a Puerto Rican Muslim who embraced Islam while pursing his studies at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor where he received his Masters Degree in Education (Curriculum and Instruction) and a dual-bachelors in History and Sociology. Jose has dedicated his career to youth education and development, serving as Principal, teacher, and youth director at numerous Islamic and public schools in the Baltimore/DC metro areas. He also has provided consulting services in the areas of organizational development, parenting, and homeschooling. He has initiated and developed many projects such as youth camps, Islamic Studies curricula, sustainable farming, and homeschooling services.
WD: Were you born in Puerto Rico? How often do you visit or have you visited?
JA: My parents were born in PR and I was born in Chicago. I used to visit every other year growing up.
WD: As a Puerto Rican Muslim, there is a certain level of emotional connection to what is happening on the island right now, how has this hurricane affected you on a personal level?
JA: It is taking an emotional toll on a variety of levels: (I have) family who are in a difficult situation and without communication, the island and its people overall and their condition. It is overwhelming and occupying most of my thoughts.
WD: Do you have family and/or friends currently living in Puerto Rico? What cities/parts of the island?
JA: I have family in Yabucoa (where the hurricane entered-mother’s side) and the northwest of Moca, Isabela, and Aguadilla (father’s side). My father and step-mother live in Isabela (step-mother is alone through both storms as my father was in Chicago), as well as uncles in Aguadilla. Many cousins are in Yabucoa and elder tias (aunts).
WD: What happened to your family during Hurricane Maria?
JA: Our communication was cut off, so we were unable to contact my step-mother for over a week. We did not know her condition at all. We have recently made contact with her and other family members and they are physically fine. Many lost their homes. The concern now is that they are running out of food, so although they survived the storm, the aftermath is very precarious.
WD: Please tell me about the 3 Imams initiative. How did it begin and what progress has it made? What do you hope to achieve through this project?
JA: Many of us reached out to any Muslim NGO that was trying to help in Puerto Rico. For myself, I reached out separately to ICNA Relief based on some contacts that I have. They connected me with the brothers of the 3 Imams project as well as Wilfredo of CAIR-FL and we sat on a few teleconferences to plan the initial trip. The first trip, which was recently completed, was meant to be an assessment trip. Moving forward, the plan is still in development. The key is getting help directly to the people and finding the most efficient means of meeting their needs.
WD: Many Muslims, especially immigrants, and even some Americans in general don’t know much about Puerto Rico, what would you want them to learn from this experience and about the situation there?
JA: Things will will not be solved in the short-term. There was utter and complete destruction that will require years of intervention and investment. Once the news-cycle ends… remember that the issues have not. Stay informed and continue to support the efforts in PR.
WD: How can other Muslims get involved in helping the relief efforts? What can they do from here?
JA: Make dua (Pray) and give money to those who are on the ground.
WD: Anything else you would like to add?
JA: Get to know your Muslim brothers and sisters of other ethnicity. This will make us more personally invested to help others if things come up (may Allah protect us).
Special thanks to our brother, José Acevedo for his time and insight. May God Almighty bless him and his family, both here and in Puerto Rico.
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