‘I Want People to see me for who I am’: South Alumna Ruwa Romman Secures Historic Election to Georgia State House
South Alum Ruwa Romman has made history as the first Muslim female and Palestinian-American elected to Georgia's State House of Representatives.
December 12, 2022
South Forsyth alum Ruwa Romman didn’t think she’d ever become an elected official – but on Nov. 8, 2022, she became the first Muslim woman legislator in the Georgia State House of Representatives.
Despite this historic achievement, Romman initially had a different type of race in her sights for 2022.
“I did not want to run,” Romman said. “That’s the irony of ironies in all of this. My plan this year was to run a marathon and help out [with] statewide races. That was sincerely my plan.”
Romman, who graduated from South in 2011, most recently worked as a senior consultant for Deloitte’s government and public sector division. She helped clients with public policy issues, but outside of her fulltime job, she worked on political campaigns and assisted various political organizations, dipping her toes in what would soon be her future career.
When she responded to a friend’s invitation to attend a training for anyone interested in running for office, her friend wanted Romman’s feedback on the event, but Romman caught the eye of a reporter who attended the training as well.
It’s very rare for a first-time candidate to win the election. And so, I was nervous, but when it happened, it felt so surreal that I genuinely couldn’t believe it. ”
— Ruwa Romman, District 97 Representative
“There was a reporter there who wrote a beautiful piece about the importance of being involved politically, especially for women and minority women,” Romman said, “but she started the article with: ‘Ruwa Romman is contemplating running for office.’ It’s a fair assumption because we met at a training for candidates, but that was absolutely not my intention.”
Romman’s aptitude for leadership as well as her commitment to serve her community ultimately made her the perfect candidate to represent District 97, which includes parts of Berkeley Lake, Norcross, Duluth and Peachtree Corners. She gained an overwhelming wave of support after the article had was published, which solidified her interest in becoming a candidate.
Her victory against Republican candidate John Chan makes her the first Muslim woman to be elected to the state House, as well as the first Palestinian-American elected to any office in Georgia.
“I see it as a huge honor, but also, it’s a huge responsibility,” Romman said, “At the end of the day, when people vote for you, they’re essentially saying, ‘Hey, I trust you to make my life a little bit better,’ and with that comes a lot of expectations and a lot of standards.”
The seriousness with which Romman regards this public trust echoes her trailblazing time as a South student.
“I want to make sure that I take that responsibility very seriously and do the best that I possibly can,” she said.
Coaches Before Candidacy
Romman credits her post-graduation success to the teachers that supported her and helped her grow as both a student and a leader. She always tells people that her “teachers saved her life” when reminiscing about the time she spent in high school.
“[My teachers] took care of me, they helped me figure out the college process because I’m a first-generation immigrant,” Romman said. “My parents had gone to college outside the United States, so it’s very different here.”
One teacher Romman spoke fondly of was her former IB history teacher, Tom Wolff. Not only does she remember his mentorship and kindness, but also his humor and the fun they had in his class.
“My funniest high school memory is when we convinced Mr. Wolff to do a cartwheel in class, and I’m pretty sure he hurt his back that day, but we were kids and we laughed about it,” said Romman. “He was fine, but I just really loved how much fun we all had. School can be stressful, so it’s nice to have those moments of laughter.”
Wolff, now an assistant principal for SFHS, has worked at South for 19 years, but he still remembers Romman’s inquisitive nature and her love of learning.
“I remember Ruwa was always insightful,” Wolff said. “When she would engage [with] issues about history, she would always question things in a positive way and critically analyze all the material that we were going over.”
While many high school graduates accomplish amazing feats after high school, not many teachers get to brag about their students becoming an elected official. Wolff expressed his excitement about watching his former IB history student apply the skills and lessons he taught in her adult life.
“It makes me very proud to see [Romman’s accomplishments],” Wolff said. “One of my students who I enjoyed having in class went on to have such a positive impact on the whole country, so it really makes me feel proud.”
Creating a Legacy
During her time at South, Romman founded the Muslim Student Association (MSA) as a way to spread awareness about anti-Islamic prejudice and create unity amongst South’s Muslim students. Romman spoke about how there were not many Muslim students at SFHS when she attended from 2008 to 2011, but she said that MSA was the first time she had to be a “leader and a visionary” because she had to learn how to start an organization on her own.
Today, one of Romman’s goals is to protect the “civil liberties” of marginalized groups in Georgia, something she’s been fighting for since her time in high school.
When Romman experienced hesitancy around the creation of MSA, she didn’t let that deter her vision.
“At the end of the day, if you’re going to have an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes), I should be allowed to have an MSA,” Romman recalls.
Romman admitted that the process of starting the organization initially felt “lonely” at times, but her diligence and devotion paid off. Now MSA is a well-known organization at South with loyal members who dedicate their time to informing others about Islam and destigmatizing the religion.
In fact, 11 years later, her younger sister, SFHS senior Jenan Romman, is now vice president of MSA and continues to carry on her sister’s original goals and vision for the organization.
“I feel like I’m continuing something that she started,” Jenan Romman said. “Being able to represent my religion this way gives me a sense of leadership. And hopefully, like my sister, I can leave an impact for the people after us to continue [MSA’s] legacy.”
A Representative Recommends
After reflecting on her time in high school, Representative Romman shared her words of wisdom with The Bird Feed, including things she’s learned since her graduation from South Forsyth.
“I know it’s easier said than done, but I wish I stressed a lot less [as a student] and enjoyed the process because everything worked out and at the end of the day, there will be challenges in life regardless,” Romman said.
Romman shared her advice for high school and college students who want to become involved in local government.
“Work on a campaign, even if it’s starting out as a volunteer,” Romman said. “A lot of people that we ended up hiring for my campaign started out as volunteers. We love and want to hire [volunteers].”
Romman anticipates the beginning of a career in politics will mostly be “grunt work,” such as stuffing envelopes, writing postcards, knocking on doors, making phone calls and cleaning up the data. However, she encourages students to find value in such smaller tasks.
“Don’t ever feel like what you’re doing is boring or unimportant because even as a candidate myself, I was doing those things,” she said. “I was knocking on doors, I was cleaning the data, I was looking at our stakeholders.”
She also advises students to “ask for opportunities” and to not be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.
Romman described how she began her career knocking doors for former state senator and 2014 Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia, Jason Carter.
“Did I think I would work for the office?” Romman said. “No, I just knew that I wanted to learn how the system works.”
Lastly, Romman recommends that students should share information and “share their story” to local and federal representatives to make their voices heard.
“That’s why lobbying is so effective. It’s the people who have the time to share information with members of Congress that get what they want,” she said.
Good morning! My name is Ruwa Romman, and I’ve just been elected to become Georgia’s first Muslim woman in the state house and first Palestinian ever elected to any public office in the state 🌊💙 #GAPol #Ruwa4Georgia pic.twitter.com/Ib2t02v6dv
— Ruwa Romman (@Ruwa4Georgia) November 9, 2022
‘For Who I Am’
In her first year as both a legislator and an elected official, Romman is excited to learn from her colleagues. She says that she hopes to build relationships with other State House members because she wants to tackle state issues as soon as possible, and the only way to do that is by building trust and rapport with other representatives.
As the first Muslim woman in the House, Romman doesn’t want people to see her as a “caricature” for the sake of representation, but instead, as a hardworking individual who is deeply passionate about her line of work.
“I want them to see me as a partner who’s serious about this work,” she said. “So I’m hoping from day one that people will see me for who I am.”