As a Black Muslim Somali immigrant woman who has been active in the Madison community for a long time, Nasra Wehelie has lived at the intersection of many communities and has sat at many tables. On Tuesday night, she was confirmed by the Madison City Council as the city’s newest alderperson and she now has a chance to sit at a very important table.
“I was so excited when I heard the news. It’s been empowering and inspiring to be chosen to lead my own district and also to make an impact in the city I have lived in for so long so I can give back and help and tackle some of these critical issues,” Wehelie tells Madison365. “My leadership skills, my business, my empathy lens in serving and listening to and being a voice for the voiceless … that’s what I bring to the table.
“I have many layers that are part of me that I can use to tackle an issue. There’s not just one way of analyzing the situation,” she continues. “And I’m always looking at the deeper issues rather than just trying to find a temporary solution.”
Wehelie will represent District 7, which is comprised of four wards, five neighborhood associations, and approximately 13,000 residents on Madison’s southwest side. The Madison City Council’s executive committee recommended Wehelie who was chosen over 11 people.
Wehelie replaces former alder Donna Moreland who resigned from the Common Council in September and went on to become the deputy secretary for the state Department of Safety and Professional Services.
“Donna is a friend and we are both a member of Downtown Rotary Club. She’s a great person and very kind and hard-working,” Wehelie says. “I appreciate her leadership as an alderperson for District 7 and I”m happy for her and her new role as deputy secretary.”
Wehelie has served as the director of development and communications for Second Harvest Foodbank, the development director for Madison-area Urban Ministry (now called JustDane) and has worked for United Way of Dane County. She and also founded the Muslim Youth of Madison, whose mission is to bring Muslim youth together and provide them the venue to carry out recreational, educational, spiritual and charitable activities. Wehelie is currently the president/CEO at Empathy 4 Equity LLC, a consulting business that builds a culture of empathy framework for organizational excellence for nonprofits, foundations and corporations.
“I’ve served in many leadership positions and on many boards of directors in Madison and have worked with non-profits and I’ve seen that the people we serve are impacted greatly by policy that has been made at the top,” Wehelie says. “I think this is the next step … for me to be at the table in a decision-making role for these policies that affect so many.”
Wehelie says that a quote from Bryan Stevenson, author of “Just Mercy,” is one that she holds dear: “When we allow ourselves to be shielded and disconnected from those who are vulnerable and disfavored, we lose our effectiveness. But proximity is a pathway through which we learn the kind of things we need to make healthier communities”-
“What he says in that quote is very important to me. Proximity has been a core aspect of my mission in both my professional and community work,” she says.
Wehelie immigrated to Wisconsin from Somalia to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she earned her bachelor of arts in international relations. She would later earn her MBA from Cardinal Stritch University. She has a unique life experience being a Black, Muslim, immigrant woman living in Dane County for the last 32 years and in District 7 for the last 22 years.
“My background has really given me the strength and the lens to look at things differently than most,” she says. “When you are part of those communities you tend to showcase the needs of those people who are underrepresented or marginalized. So, I will always have the lens for tackling issues that need to be tackled and bringing solutions to the table.”
The most important issue, Wehelie says, is getting Madison to be a vibrant and inclusive city for everyone.
“When it comes to affordable housing, attacking homelessness, lessening racial disparities, creating employment opportunities for people of color, there are many challenges that we face. It’s critical that we do so,” she says. “I’m very hopeful, as we look at this city, that we can find ways to tackle these social issues and racial inequality.”