Muslim police officer is breaking barriers in Bartlett

  • Maha Ayesh of Lombard joined the Bartlett Police Department last October.

    Maha Ayesh of Lombard joined the Bartlett Police Department last October.

  • Aneesh Sohoni

    Aneesh Sohoni

  • Timone Davis

    Timone Davis

  • Samer Attar

    Samer Attar

  • Linda Couri

    Linda Couri

Updated 10/19/2021 5:44 AM

Maha Ayesh is the first in her extended Palestinian American family to become a police officer, joining the Bartlett Police Department last October.

The Lombard resident also is a trailblazer in another area. Ayesh is the suburbs' first Muslim female police officer who wears a hijab -- an Islamic head covering.


"I am the first hijabi officer in Illinois," said Ayesh, who turns 31 on Tuesday. "One of my biggest inspirations was I really wanted to challenge cultural barriers."

Though people are not used to seeing a "hijabi" police officer, there are more Muslim officers, male and female, in the suburbs today, she added.

"It's so critical because we bring a background that a lot of people are not used to working with," Ayesh said. "I want to bring difference, more of my culture and values to show that we work with people just like me in our communities."

Ayesh previously worked as a forensic therapist evaluating inmates at the Kane County jail and as a juvenile justice liaison in Kane County.

When patrolling the streets of Bartlett, Ayesh said she turns heads, but her interactions have been mostly positive.

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Ayesh said she hopes to help the police department provide culturally competent services, not only to the Muslim community. Bartlett has a growing ethnic and immigrant population -- 16% Asian and nearly 13% Latino.

"I want to show the Muslim females out there that they can do this ... they can break those barriers and walls," Ayesh said.

Latino Catholics

Benedictine University in Lisle will host Catholic theologian Natalia Imperatori-Lee for two virtual lectures exploring the diversity of global Catholicism and the challenges faced by women in today's church.

She will give both talks via Zoom. The topics are: "Oye: The Role of Latinx Communities in Our Storied Church," 7 p.m. Wednesday; and "Listen: What #MeToo and #ChurchToo Can Teach the Catholic Church," 12:20 p.m. Thursday.

They are open to the public. To register for the Wednesday lecture, visit To register for the Thursday lecture, visit


Imperatori-Lee is Benedictine University's visiting scholar in Catholic thought for 2021-2022. She is a professor of religious studies and director of the Catholic Studies program at Manhattan College in New York. Her research focuses on Catholic ecclesiology, popular religion, theological trends in the Spanish-speaking world and the relationship of women, the poor and other marginalized groups with the church.

Child poverty

Elgin-area community leaders and experts will host a discussion Tuesday raising awareness about the effects of poverty on women and its impact on the community, especially children.

The event begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Meadows Community Rooms at Gail Borden Public Library, 270 N. Grove, Elgin. It is copresented by Women On The Brink.

Panelists include: Nancy Coleman, Alignment Collaborative for Education; Lea Conrad, Gretchen S. Vapnar Community Crisis Center; Kristi Dahlquist, One Hope United; Deb Dempsey, Kane County Regional Office of Education; Elgin City Councilman Corey Dixon; Pilar Garcia, More at 4; Karla Jimenez, Elgin Area School District U-46; Amber Peters, Elgin Partnership for Early Learning; and Madeleine Villalobos, digital equity coordinator for Gail Borden.

To register, visit

College education

Aneesh Sohoni has been named the new CEO of One Million Degrees, a Chicago-based leader in increasing community college enrollment and persistence among underrepresented students.

Sohoni has been executive director of Teach For America's greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana region for nearly six years. He starts in his new role Oct. 29.

One Million Degrees partners with 10 Chicago-area community colleges, including Harper College in Palatine, and employers across a range of industries. It provides a system of wraparound student support services, such as tutoring, coaching, mentorship, financial assistance, personal advisement and professional development for colleges. The goal is to expand those services to more colleges.

"It's really an exciting opportunity and challenge," said Sohoni, 32, of Oak Park.

A second-generation Indian American, Sohoni said education was the No. 1 priority in his family. The former high school English teacher aims to break down systemic and structural barriers to education for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds.

"Our students are capable of boundless things, immense untapped potential when given access to opportunities, resources and support," he said.

Inclusive cities

Chicago placed No. 1 on the New American Economy's national ranking of the 100 largest U.S. cities, which measures how effectively they are integrating immigrants and their policies to improve socioeconomic outcomes.

NAE is a bipartisan immigration research and advocacy organization. Its 2021 Cities Index was developed with the help of 10 of the nation's leading experts on immigration and integration. It uses 59 metrics to assess how immigrants compare to native-born residents economically, civically, socially and politically.

Chicago received the highest score in each policy category -- government leadership, economic empowerment, inclusivity, community, legal support and emergency management. The city also received distinction for the highest socioeconomic scores in economic prosperity and livability.

Speaker series

Carmel Catholic High School's annual Spiritus Series returns this month featuring several notable speakers, including two alumni.

The series kicks off with a talk by Timone Davis, an assistant professor of pastoral theology with an emphasis in Black Catholic theology at Loyola University in Chicago, 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28. Davis is treasurer of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium, has worked for the Archdiocese of Chicago as the coordinator of Reclaiming Christ in Life Young Adult Ministry and launched PEACE centered WHOLENESS, blending clinical counseling and spiritual companioning.

Other speakers include Linda Couri, director of the Institute for Pastoral Leadership and assistant professor of pastoral care and counseling at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein. A former abortion advocate and Planned Parenthood employee, Couri will examine and defend the anti-abortion stance through a Catholic lens on Jan. 20.

February's speaker is Dr. Samer Attar, attending surgeon at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. In 2016, Attar was honored as Chicago Magazine's Chicagoan of the Year and an American Red Cross Global Citizenship Hero in recognition of his humanitarian work in Syria and advocacy for Syrian medical workers.

The talks will be hosted inside the newly opened Kathy A. Nemmers Welcome Center at Carmel's Mundelein campus. The events are free and open to the public and will be broadcast live on the Carmel Digital Network YouTube channel.

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