Marianne Melleka Boules

Marianne WOW 1a

Our Woman of the Week is Marianne Melleka Boules, the founder of Coptic Voice, a platform intended to help the Coptic diaspora construct its identity and use its resources and human capital as a collective force for good. You see her here about to give a speech sitting with Congresswoman Michelle Steele and the Egyptian Ambassador, and giving a speech about the importance of tobacco regulation policy to my alma matter at the University of California Riverside ("by the grace of God, my Dean happened to be in attendance and paid me out of pocket to get my master's degree at the School of Public Policy!) and  We asked her what made her initiate the project of Coptic Voice:

“I started Coptic Voice during a time of change in my life. In 2017, I had gotten married to the love of my life, who became (and still is) the best supporter of my many adventures. 2017 was also the year that I completed up my master’s program and my educational career in general. Of course, while these were good changes, it also came with an existential crisis that I think many people like are familiar with. It was like a pestering, gnawing sense of, ‘Well, what do I do now?’ I went from having barely a moment to myself  to think during my college and graduate program to being completely and utterly free. It was a difficult transition, but like all existential crises, something new and better was waiting for me: my new identity as an activist.

“In my church, we always learned that God calls different people to love him in different ways. Some of us are called to be monks and nuns who commit to praying for the world in their desert caves and forests; others become mothers and fathers who love their children by showing them the love of Christ. For me, I had always known from a young age that the way I would love Him was by loving people. The cross God has blessed me with is my highly sensitive nature, and so I felt that helping others was a natural calling for my life. 

“Being a sensitive person and having the ability to feel others’ pain is truly both a gift and a curse. It becomes a curse when you feel helpless to do anything about the evil of the world and it turns you into a jaded, cynical, hardened being; this is a phase I have gone through many times but by the grace of God I have always been able to find spiritual mentors to take me out of it. But being highly sensitive can also be a gift when the pain of others spurs you into taking action to do something and refuse to be complicit in humankind’s ability to hurt one another.

Marianne WOW 1b
Marianne WOW 1c

“Today, most likely because of my privilege and my blessing to have the ability to act, my prayer life, and just plain old grace, I haven’t felt the crushing weight of the world fringe upon my sense of Self in a while. Today, I am lucky enough to dedicate my life to helping others. A year after hopping from job to job after my graduate program, I started my own consulting practice Boules Consulting to help nonprofit organizations with their grant writing, management, and reporting. Slowly as I gained more experience, I expanded it to become a full-service consulting firm that has worked on everything from climate change mitigation to achieving economic equity through targeted financial literacy. When I’m not working, I volunteer at my local economic development nonprofit organization to help other women start their own businesses. With another Axia Woman of the Week Phoebe Farag Mikhail, I am also a member of the Oriental Orthodox Solidarity Project which is a lay collective of Oriental Orthodox Christians devoted to advancing the Orthodox understanding of social justice. And of course, I help run Coptic Voice, which has been with me as an idea that took root in 2011 and has blossomed into a full nonprofit organization that has reached millions of people across the world.”

Axia!

Marianne Melleka Boules, our Woman of the Week, is an activist and the founder of Coptic Voice. You see her here as a volunteer at the Dear World Exhibit at the Los Angeles Book Festival, as a newlywed serving as a legal observer with her husband at an immigrant's rights protest, and with one of her board of directors with with congressional representative Lou Correa to help push a bill he authored to help protect Copts in Egypt. We asked her what was it about the Coptic diaspora that made her see the need for such a platform:

“I started Coptic Voice for a simple reason: I noticed a need. Unlike the Greeks, Armenians, and other groups who have built their home in America for multiple generations, I am part of the second generation of Copts in America; my parents were part of the first wave of immigrants, and I and my peers were the first ones born and raised in America. As many can imagine, that resulted in… shall we say… clashes growing up. Growing up, I thought I was an island. I thought no one else understood the struggle of convincing their parents to let them go to a Halloween party, or just how important of a rite of passage going to prom was. As I grew up and gained the emotional maturity to understand and communicate my experiences, I discovered that many, many Americans such as myself struggled just like I did. We wanted so badly to be American, but we also want to honor and incorporate our roots as well.

Marianne WOW 2a
Marianne WOW 2b

“Layered on top of all of this was a problem that Coptic people distinctly have to grapple with: how we fit into the larger fabric of America. It seems like America has no idea what to do with us Copts. The social constructs the West defined to categorize the world, like Black/African-American and White/Caucasian, does not apply to us. We are ethnically African, but we do not look the way most people expect Africans to look. And yet, a Coptic person is the head of the democratic African-American caucus here in California. We are classified as Caucasian under the government census (actually, I wrote an article tracing the history of that classification here if you’d like to know the history). We have an Arab culture, and many Copts identify as Arab, but many other Copts do not identify as Arab and may even get offended if you refer to them as such. I even once heard that from an anthropological standpoint, Egyptians are considered ‘Afro-Eurasian’: that encompasses literally half of the world’s habitable continents! Even an article of mine was quoted on Twitter (which you can read here) after SNL referred to Rami Malek as a white man during a skit. I can go on and on.“Clearly, we don’t fit anywhere, and it was taking a toll on us American Copts in the form of a forever-lingering identity crises. I saw that there was a need to have a platform for laypeople to dialogue about Coptic American identity; and thus, Coptic Voice was born.

“Since its inception, Coptic Voice has had hundreds of different writers talk about diverse topics, covering everything from one girl’s journey to accepting her God-given nose to the vitriol of American politics to one journalist’s harrowing escape from the Egyptian government. In 2019, I filed Coptic Voice as a tax-exempt 501c3 nonprofit. That same year, we hosted our first ever Advocacy and Identity workshop in Washington D.C. in partnership with the Religious Freedom Institute. There, we held a three-day workshop to train and equip college students with the skills necessary to advocate for Copts in Egypt and was attended by the country’s leading pioneers in the Coptic-American space including journalist Samuel Tadros, Coptic Orphans founder Nermien Riad, and Agora University President Alex Shalaby.   

“October 2021 marked the four-year anniversary of Coptic Voice. Since then, I have left my position at Coptic Voice so I can dedicate more time to my business and family. But I am very happy and thankful that God called me to start something that was needed in its time, and I’m excited to follow His will onto the next adventure!”

Marianne WOW 2c
Marianne WOW 3a

Per usual, we asked our Woman of the Week, Marianne Melleka Boules, about her morning routine:

“As someone who has been working from home since 2018, I have learned to consciously build routine into my workday. As I have no children yet, my life is fairly organized, although I expect that it is only a matter of time before the arrival of children explode my carefully crafted life out of the water!

“On a good day (read: on a day where I actually wake up early and don’t waste it on social media), I like to get up, wash my face, and change into a new set of clothes so it feels like ‘home time’ has ended and ‘work time’ has begun. Then I like to sit on my dining room table and write in my diary, a habit I’ve kept up since I was eight years old. Then my husband makes the coffee while I do the dishes from the night before. Then we take our coffee to our ‘offices,’ which are just two desks placed together at the foot of our bed.

“On a bad day, I wake up, stay in my pajamas all day, don’t even bother to brush my hair, and maybe work maximum 1 or 2 hours of the bare minimum and then spend the rest of the day plopped on the couch binge watching my sci-fi show of the month. Of course, those days are not complete until I am increasingly burdened with soul-crushing sense of guilt for having wasted a whole day in front of the television, so I like to keep those days to a minimum!

“Regardless of whether I have a Good or Bad day, the one good habit I have successfully kept up no matter what since 2017 (I’m telling you, 2017 was a big year for me!) is bullet journaling. Every day once I get to my desk, I will write my schedule for the day, my main goals and tasks to achieve, my meal plan, my food journal, and my exercise goal (usually just walking 10,000 steps is enough activity for me). At the end of the year, I have a whole book documenting my year!” 

Thank you, Marianne!

Marianne WOW 3b

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