Life for Amal Yusuf has been busy lately. Projects at work and family celebrations of Eid al-Fitr have taken all of her focus. So much so, that her 11th work anniversary on May 17 slipped her mind. But 11 years at Delta Air Lines is no small feat, and it did not go unnoticed by those that work with Amal, Program Manager - HR Programs. She is more than a colleague to so many - she’s a mentor, a confidant, a friend, a connection. In her 11 years at Delta, she’s seen six divisions and various roles and has met and connected with thousands of employees that quickly became Delta family to her.
Her story of connection, however, wasn’t always that way. Airplanes once symbolized separation to Amal, even hopelessness and despair. Her SkyHub bio reads: “From the Horn of Africa to the City of Decatur,” but it wasn’t that simple for Amal.
“You see, my early memories of airplanes are of loud sounds hovering above us as we ran from our home with nothing but the clothes we were wearing. Walking in zig-zagged lines and then running to avoid the hail of bullets coming from behind us. At the age of nine, I experienced the devastation of war on a country I once called home and the somber look on my parents’ faces as they decided for us to leave and seek safety overseas,” Amal shared in 2020.
She continued, “There would be many early trips to the airport before dawn to see if today was the day when a seat would be available on the only flight taking people out. Families discussed who would take that open seat and start a journey to safety, and who would stay back and fight for survival. At that moment, the big airplane was a symbol of separation, hopelessness, and despair. The ones who made it shed tears of guilt and fear as they embarked on this journey alone, leaving their brothers and sisters behind. The ones who didn’t make it cried tears of sorrow, wondering if today would be the day when bullets from the militia would end their lives.”
Today, Amal is a proud Delta employee - both for what it symbolizes in her life and for what it allows her to do for others.
“Delta has been able to turn my airline story of separation into one of connection,” she says. “I now have the opportunity every day to help people connect to their dreams, their families and friends and, ultimately, to the life they have always wanted.”
Her story, written by Amal Yusuf
“It was an early morning in December of 1990, and at the age of nine, my biggest dream was to climb the mango tree in our front yard and show the boys - my brother Mohamed, 11, and my cousin Burhan, 10 - that I wouldn’t fall. I didn’t realize that my life as I knew it was about to change forever.
There were popping sounds like popcorn, and I could feel the tension rising in our house as the noise grew louder. My mom grabbed me, my brother and my cousin, opened the front door and ran into the street. In a panic, she said that militia men (Kofiyad Gaduud, or the Men with Red Hats) had entered the house through the back door.
They were looting and killing everyone in sight. I was frightened; I wanted my dad and my other siblings, and most of all, I wanted my shoes. I kept telling my mom that we needed to go back to put on shoes because my feet were hurting. As the hail of bullets landed around us, I saw people fall to my right and left, bright red blood staining the streets. That day, I formed my first visions of women as heroes, for my mother never showed fear, even when faced with death; she looked death square in the eye and persevered. She created a safe zone for my siblings and me while Somalia was burning.
Fast forward three years: we have resettled in Egypt, and I’m sitting in bed holding back tears because I’m in disbelief and I’m angry at myself for not seeing the signs. In October 1994, my beloved aunt was killed by her husband in Kenya while she slept. It’s another defining moment in the life of that nine-year-old who escaped war only to be haunted by violence. That day, I vowed to always empower those who feel powerless and to uplift those who dare to dream, for my aunt had so many dreams she had yet to fulfill.
Every day of my eleven-year career at Delta, I have worked hard because I carry the weight of every immigrant and refugee girl who dreams of working and succeeding in Corporate America. If the nine-year-old who ran away from her house without shoes can find a seat at the table, then any girl who wants it, who dreams it, can one day have it too.
In 2019, I found The Atlanta Women’s Foundation (AWF), and I met a cohort of women in the Inspire Atlanta class who all had a powerful story of triumph against different odds.
I’ve always lived by the motto, “Having the backbone to stand alone gives you the strength to carry others,” but with AWF, I’ve realized that I don’t have to stand alone. Together, we can let other women know that they don’t have to, either.
The smallest act or show of support can change the trajectory of a girl or woman’s life forever – we can each be the tiny ping that turns a woman’s head a few degrees, allowing her to see a possibility that she didn’t before. Tell your co-worker how much you value her discussion contribution in front of the whole team; compliment her skillful execution of a task; amplify her statement if others gloss over it in conversation, credit her as you repeat it. This is how we expand our presence at the table – pulling up a seat next to us. Together, let’s keep bringing more chairs, and eventually build the longer table, so that all women may feast.”
Amal Yusuf is the newest president of SHE BRG, Delta’s Women’s Business Resource Group, and project manager for the Employee Relations Center of Expertise at Delta, where she ensures her team has the process and technology capabilities to drive results for 75K employees. Amal has served Delta’s employees and customers in many roles, including onboarding program manager for flight attendants and manager of Safety Leadership and Promotion, where she designed and delivered programs to promote a culture of personal safety.
Outside of Delta, Amal is active in the community through volunteer work in the city of Clarkston, GA, which is home to a large population of refugees and immigrants. In 2019, she discovered the AWF-sponsored Inspire Atlanta program and enjoys working with its cohort of inspiring women to fundraise and support women and girls across Atlanta.
Many women feel like they need to change who they are to fit a specific corporate mold. Amal is working to shift this mindset and share the message that women shine when they understand who they are and honor what’s important to them.
Photos captions, from top:
- Amal, her husband Kayse, son Hanad and daughter Hana. Photo was taken by Delta Captain Drew Fellers who Amal met through Chairman’s Club. This is Amal’s family’s first professional group picture, which she credits to Delta for – sharing that “Delta helped connect and tell their story through a picture.”
- Headshot also taken by Drew Fellers.
- Trip back home to Mogadishu, Somalia in 2013.
- Amal and husband at the Chairman’s Club gala. Amal was excited to “wear the Somali traditional dress ‘Dirac’ and represent as the first Somali to be honored at Chairman's Club.”
- Amal at the Inspire Atlanta orientation.
- Chairman’s Club Honoree trip to Toulouse in 2018.
- Amal joined by Delta women and men that have had a significant impact on her life.