ATLANTA — To know Atlanta is to know that its history is rooted in civil rights, with the Black community paving the way to many of the social justice battles and victories the nation sees today. Woven within that story is the rich culture and history of the Black individuals who practice Islam and call Atlanta home.
One civil rights attorney walks in both worlds -- and fights to make sure others can do the same.
"I had a definite displayed interest in human rights and civil rights from a pretty early age," said Nicole Fauster, Esq.
Fauster identifies as a Black Muslim woman. She currently works as a civil rights attorney at CAIR Georgia, the local Council on American-Islamic Relations. It is America’s largest Islamic civil liberties and advocacy group, according to its website. Fauster specifically works to pursue legal solutions for clients who may be discriminated against in the workplace due to their Muslim faith.
She said she was inspired to pursue her career while attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"Unfortunately, our community suffered the loss of three incredible people in the Chapel Hill shooting," she said. "Three young Muslim students who were at the prime of their lives, they were killed in a hateful, Islamophobic incident."
Fauster's journey to fighting for human rights has taken her to Egypt, Tunisia, North Carolina, Washington D.C. and has brought her back home to Atlanta.
"I was born and raised in Atlanta, so like, it's an interesting sort of loop where I was born and raised here, went to school in North Carolina, did a lot of traveling, went to school in D.C., and then found myself right back here where I was born and raised, served many of the communities and the mosques that I grew up attending," she said. "So it's a really nice, beautiful full-circle type of situation."
With CAIR, Fauster said she focuses heavily on employment discrimination, representing clients who may have been discriminated against for wearing a scarf on their head or prevented from maintaining a beard as a Muslim man or wanting to take a break to pray during the day. She said she helps advocate for them to receive religious accommodations.
"So a lot of times like my clients are Black Muslim women so oftentimes they're not just dealing with one particular issue as it relates to perhaps praying. It's also related to them maybe even wearing a headscarf because of that gender aspect as well. Additionally, in that intersectionality piece, we see a lot of racial hostility is embedded with the religious hostilities too," she said.
"So that's something that I very much appreciate about our work -- is that we're able to not just focus on the religious piece. There is a connection to other identities. We're able to sort of be a bit more holistic in that regard in protecting and serving them."
Fauster said her work is rewarding as she gets to give back to the community that helped shaped her. Her family is from Uganda and grew up in a tight-knit community that helped raise her too, she said.
"I grew up where all the elders were watching out for the younger ones," she said. "You know, it's not just your parents that are focused on your success."
She said her upbringing informs her work and she brings that same sense of belonging and community into each case she approaches.
"I'm actually very blessed where I feel like in a lot of the spaces I've been, I haven't had to sacrifice my Blackness or Muslimness," she said.
The civil rights attorney said she holds true to both and works to make sure other women could do the same.
"The Muslim community is so diverse," she said. "There's a lot of intersectionality."
The American Bar Association has found that Black attorneys make up roughly 4.7% of all lawyers. A little more than a third of attorneys are women, ABA data shows. The organization said white men and women are still overrepresented in the legal profession compared with their presence in the overall U.S. population.
As a Black Muslim woman, Fauster is very much a minority in her field. She said her work sometimes comes with a dose of imposter syndrome, but she battles it trying to be fearless in her pursuit for justice.
"It's not easy, when you know, you don't quite see many folks who look like you," she said. "But at the same time, I tell myself that shouldn't be a deterrent to be a pioneer or to step out of your comfort zone."
Part of that work is highlighting the community that helped shape who she is. The Muslim community embedded in Clarkston, Lawrenceville and sprinkled throughout Gwinnett County is all part of the Atlanta landscape that few know about.
"I think the erasure of Black Muslims and folks who are that intersection -- it happens all the time and it's something that's getting better," she said. "But we're here, we're loud, we're proud and we're representing in all the ways that we can as it pertains to the Atlanta community."
To help get acquainted with the thriving Black Muslim community in Atlanta, Fauster recommends people check out Spring Greens at Community Cafe, a Black and Muslim-owned business. She said appreciating the history of Georgia's mosques and attending interfaith events are also great ways to appreciate the community.