Mazzoni Center names Sultan Shakir as new president and executive officer
The Philadelphia native is the first to be named to the role since the organization's previous CEO resigned in 2018.
For the first time in three years, Mazzoni Center will officially have a new permanent leader, as Sultan Shakir has been appointed its new president and executive officer.
This marks the end of a 12-month search between Mazzoni Center’s Board of Directors, Interim Leadership Team and Kevin Chase Executive Search Group in finding the right person to lead the organization into its next chapter.
“It’s a huge honor to be able to work with the staff, with the community [and] with the Board that makes up Mazzoni Center to help create a new phase for an organization that has meant so much to so many people in the Philadelphia region,” Shakir told AL DÍA during an interview.
Founded in 1979, Mazzoni Center is a recognized leader in providing quality, comprehensive, community-based health care to members of the LGBTQ+ community, a mission Shakir is in full support of, due to his own personal experiences.
“I’ve always thought that health and well-being was central to the experiences of anybody — particularly queer and trans people — to live their full lives,” he said.
“Growing up as a Black, queer, Muslim meant that I didn’t always have voices that were telling me that it was ok for all those identities to exist,” Shakir added, noting that oftentimes voices were instead aiming to destroy some of those identities.
So, he is excited to lead an organization that not only supports all those identities, but “really wants those identities to be whole, healthy and thriving.”
Shakir has had extensive experience leading LGBTQ+ service organizations throughout his professional career.
Most recently, he has spent the last seven years as the executive director of SMYAL (Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders), an organization that works to support LGBTQ+ youth in the Washington, DC, metro area.
“My work at SMYAL was largely about looking at how to remove barriers to support access to care,” said Shakir.
This work included increasing the number of physical locations of the organization to ensure that young people from across the region had access to programs, services and support, and launching new programs that aimed to provide more holistic support for queer and trans youth.
One of the programs added during his tenure was a housing program, which currently serves up to 60 youth at a time to help them overcome challenges pertaining to homelessness, “and really chart a path and walk down a path towards independence,” said Shakir.
Throughout his tenure there, SMYAL saw its budget grow by 484% and staff grow by 533%. The agency also grew from one location to five.
“It became a place where young people could just be themselves,” added Shakir. “But it also became a place for parents, for siblings and for other people in the young person's life to also develop a sense of community.”
Prior to SMYAL, Shakir served as director of the D.C. and Maryland marriage equality campaigns for the Human Rights Campaign, and also led the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Project, working to make campuses safer and more inclusive of LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff.
Shakir’s selection as Mazzoni Center’s newest executive leader marks his return to the City of Brotherly Love, the city in which he was born and raised.
“Philly has always been the place that I considered home,” he said. “It’s where I came out for the first time, it’s where I developed my first sense of community in terms of Black community, in terms of queer community [and] in terms of Black, queer community.”
“So, it just represents such a place of comfort and growth for me as a person,” he added.
Shakir is looking forward to taking the skills he’s learned throughout his career and since living in Philly, and bringing them back to his community to help and provide support to the constituents of the Mazzoni Center.
As Mazzoni Center starts its next chapter with its new executive leader, Shakir is looking forward to talking with and listening to the staff, community and clients about what is really needed to support the health and well-being of the LGBTQ+ community in the region.
“I think there are a lot of opportunities for healing, a lot of opportunities for growth at the Mazzoni Center,” he said.
“One thing I’m clear about is, Mazzoni Center provides excellent care, and I'm hoping that my work in supporting this community can really help expand access to that care to more people,” he added.
Shakir’s appointment as president and executive officer will be effective Jan. 10, 2022.