top of page
Who We Are > Our Story
Laal means red in Bangla
Laal symbolizes the mark of menstruation, the altha Bengali womxn use to adorn themselves; the red saree Bengali womxn wear on their wedding day; the red bindi for which Bengali womxn are famous; and the red sun which is in the center of the Bangladeshi flag. We chose this as our name because it serves as a reminder of the strength and resilience of Bengali womxn.
Laal was founded by two Sylheti womxn from Norwood, the Bronx.
Photo taken by Salma Ahmed at the New York Botanical Garden, Feb 2019.
Laal’s mission was heavily influenced by civil rights leaders and the history of black communities organizing in the US. Between 1957 and 1970, civil rights activists established over 900 Citizenship Schools in rural areas throughout the South. The immediate goal of this grassroots educational campaign was to help African Americans pass the literacy tests required for voter registration. However, the schools also trained people to become activists themselves and work for change in their communities. Septima Clark, founder and director of the program summarized its mission: “Literacy means liberation.”
Historically, immigrant Bangladeshi women in New York City have lacked the necessary space and resources to learn English, obtain a job, or vote because they have been treated as second class citizens-- culturally, systematically, and institutionally. Laal is eradicating a stigma that has been culturally, traditionally, and religiously interwoven into this community’s foundation; in following Septima Clark’s legacy, we too, believe that Bangladeshi women will find liberation through literacy.
Photo taken by Alexandra Sanyal at the Eid Picnic, May 2021.
A timeline of Laal's work so far
Bengali womxn are essential to NYC’s fabric, yet, we have been rendered invisible socially and politically even though we are the backbone to this city; by leading and organizing Bengali womxn, Laal hopes to build the largest Bengali voting bloc in NYC’s history. Through our programs, Laal womxn are becoming activists themselves. From understanding and advocating for land use and environmental justice to reproductive and abortion justice.
We believe that through Laal Bangladeshi womxn will step into their power to lead change from inside of their homes to the larger parts of society. Bangladeshi womxn are known to lead revolutions.
Photo taken by Sanjana Khan at Chaand Raath 2021.
Photo taken by Moon Uddin at Laal Grishmo 2019.
Meet Our Co-Founders
Sanjana Khan and Ayesha Akhtar met on a hot humid summer night in 2018 at The Bronx Museum for A Bronx Narrative Event. #bronxnatives
Within the first few minutes of meeting, they discovered that they both had attended the same elementary school (P.S. 56), grew up just a block apart in Norwood, the Bronx, and that both of their families hailed from the city of Sylhet along the Surma River in Bangladesh.
Despite this shared background and close proximity, they had never met in the past 27 years.
However, just months after meeting, Laal was born on Hallow's Eve.
Both Khan and Akhtar come from an extensive background in the nonprofit sector, and their experiences were pivotal in leading to the creation of Laal. Between the two of them they shared over 22 years of nonprofit experience. They identified that of the myriad organizations they have worked for and been part of, many of the non-profits, no matter how well-intentioned, have been run by outsiders of the community.
Laal’s approach was constructed by listening directly to community needs and conducting a balanced assessment of the impact of the resources Laal provides. Although both of the founders are from the community, the leadership will never assume anything. After every cycle, Laal works to continuously improve the programs to meet the changing needs of the community through thorough surveys and evaluations from community members and staff.
Laal is 100% led by Bangladeshi womxn.
bottom of page