Rana, former Spruce Hill resident, is, among many other things, an activist, cultural producer, software developer, DJ, writer, and Citizen Planner. They are the Founder of Yalla Punk, a community-centered organization dedicated to highlighting and supporting queer and Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) immigrant artists.
Before joining CPI, Rana was working as a journalist and musician interested in social impact and community building. They were deeply involved in a coalition of contributors to the nightlife economy working for a safer and more equitable nightlife in Philadelphia, including writing an article about the need for a Night Mayor in Philadelphia. Rana’s work as a journalist is what motivated them to join CPI.
Post-CPI I decided to take a different approach to what community is. The idea of community to me became more of a gendered community, an ethnic community, identity-based community. My outlook on community was less bounded by geographic location and more of collective identity. Rana Fayez
Around the time Rana completed CPI and was rethinking what community meant to them, there was extreme anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-Arabic sentiment nationally and locally. Rana, who is from the SWANA region themselves, had experienced and witnessed xenophobia and Islamophobia personally.
“I felt like I needed to do something for the SWANA community in Philly, especially those who also come from a queer background. It felt like a cross-section that has not gotten a lot of attention. Especially because Philly is a place where a lot of immigrants are settled.”
Rana created Yalla Punk, and when thinking about a first project, they knew a music festival was needed. They saw this time of heightened Islamophobia and xenophobia as an opportunity to change the narrative about people from the SWANA region. They pulled the festival together in just a few months. It was held between Johnny Brenda’s, Crane Arts, Icebox Project Space, and The Barbary in Fishtown during the Labor Day weekend of 2017. “It was mostly a music festival, but it also turned into a multidisciplinary arts collective experience of music, art, film, and comedy. The entertainment piece is just a part of it, we have workshops, panel discussions, and talks…I want people to walk into a room and people to be laughing because I think that really disarms the idea that people of my background are violent or backwards or unfriendly.”
Photo Credit: Shaina Nyman
The festival continued annually on Labor Day weekend until 2020 and has been on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During 2021, Rana and Yalla Punk experimented with new projects and ideas. These projects included a language conversation group to connect people outside of the festival and create a safe space for people to practice their cultural language. Yalla Punk also started a fellowship program to help artists develop their work.
“2021 gave us a lot of time to experiment and try new ideas. Our goal for this upcoming year is to secure funding to see which programs we can have year-round.”
CPI helped Rana see the many different moving parts associated with planning and community projects. “You need to do community research and be in the field asking people questions about what they need. A lot of the conversations we had at CPI in the breakout sessions were really critical. During CPI was the first time I thought about all these different priorities competing.”
Currently, Rana is serving as the Technical Project Manager at the New York Public Library, using their software engineering skills to increase accessibility and work with the community.