Meet the Panelists behind International Friendship Day in Brooklyn

4th Annual International Friendship Day

“Share your smile with the world. It’s a symbol of friendship and peace”
– Christine Brinkley.

Join Borough President Eric L. Adams and Brooklynites representing cultures from around the world for the 4th Annual International Day of Friendship at Brooklyn Borough Hall and Columbus Park on Sunday, Aug, 6. The day will include a Unity Parade of flags from countries across the globe, cultural performances, a global village, delicious international cuisine, and a Cultural Talk Back Session.

For the Cultural Talk Back Session, each continent will be represented by a colorful, inspirational and community-focused Brooklynite.

Representing Asia: Hasiba Haq

Hasiba Haq is a Muslim Bangladeshi-American born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She has a degree in Middle East Studies at Fordham University, where she studied the history of the region as well as Arabic. She is currently as a coordinator at TED Conferences (brings us the great speeches at TED Talks), where she works with individuals who inspire her to dream big and work hard.

In addition to her full-time job, she is a Program Manager with Arts & Democracy in Kensington (Brooklyn), a national non-profit dedicated to cross-pollinating arts, participatory democracy and social justice. At the non-profit, she develops arts and community programming for Bangladeshi women and youth. When she is not working, doing community work, or practicing her Arabic, she enjoys trying new food, and learning as much about the world and other cultures as possible!

What makes Brooklyn “home”?

“Brooklyn is quite simply home for me. It’s the first place my parents settled when they came to the States and so in many ways, it’s where my roots begin. It’s so easy as a person of color and child of immigrants to often feel lost and not totally in place, but I remind myself that this is where home is. We’ve stuck our roots in the ground here and they’ve been nurtured so much. Brooklyn is where I feel community, strength, and friendship and that’s incredibly important to me.”

What makes Brooklyn so special to you?

“Brooklyn is special for many reasons, but to me, its diversity is what makes it so beautiful. I just came back from a work trip in Ann Arbor, and as lovely as it was, being back in Brooklyn felt so refreshing. My cab driver was driving through Ocean Parkway and I couldn’t help but smile at how much was happening on a Friday afternoon. There were little boys and their dads coming back from Friday prayer at the mosque, families shopping at a local farmer’s market, Russian ladies running for the bus, Pakistani women laughing as they push their carts full of groceries and so much more. It’s truly a global hub in so many ways. It’s these moments that make me proud to be a Brooklynite.”

What does the International Friendship Day mean to you, and why do you look forward to it this year?

“International Friendship Day is a celebration of what makes us similar as human beings. There’s so much more we have in common than what divides us and with increased divisiveness in the world, it’s important now more than ever for us to take the time to celebrate our cultures and who we are. I’m looking forward to Brooklyn gathering together and enjoying what makes us so special!”

Representing Oceania: Bridget Callahgan

Bridget Callahgan was born in Sydney and moved to Brooklyn in 2014 with her husband. S is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at Columbia University, in the Psychology Department, and in the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia Medical.

When she is not working, Bridget reads fiction and non-fiction books, loves biking around Brooklyn with her husband, and recently started tap dancing! She also has a blog called The Two Brains and is working on her first children’s book, which explores the amazing world of gut bacteria.

Tell us a little bit about your profession!

“I study children’s brains when they are thinking and feeling, how their parents help them regulate their emotions, and perhaps unexpectedly, what bacteria in children’s guts (the microbiome, aka the gut bacteria) tells us about their brain development! I want to use the information from my research to help build resilience in children who have experienced early life stress. Right now, our lab (the Developmental Affective Neuroscience Lab) is doing a study on children who have experienced international as well as local adoption, and children who are in foster or kinship care. We are right in the middle of data collection, so I spend lots of time at the MRI scanner taking photos of children’s brains.”

What makes Brooklyn so special to you?

“Brooklyn is my happy place. I first visited New York City in 2010, and while Manhattan was fun, it was a little overwhelming. When I took the train over to Brooklyn I felt calm and happy. What is not to love? Brooklyn has great food, charming brownstones, friendly people and dogs and parks everywhere.” So when I moved here with my husband in 2014, there was no question. We were living in Brooklyn! If I had to choose, the thing I most love about Brooklyn is its neighborly feeling. I love that I know the people in my building, and at the local store, and I can say “hi” to people on the street. Brooklyn also has the best view of Manhattan!”

What does the International Friendship Day mean to you, and why do you look forward to it this year?

“Moving to America was initially daunting. My first days in New York, with the sirens and crowds, felt intense! I was worried that people would see me as an outsider, and sometimes I was afraid to talk with my Aussie accent. But I quickly realized that in New York, everyone is an outsider! This place really is a melting pot. People from all over the world find their home here, and as an international person, that is a very nice feeling. I see the International Day of Friendship as a reflection of that part of New York, and I look forward to seeing people come together to celebrate their roots.”

Representing the Americas: Jeffrey Ulysse

Jeffrey Ulysse is a Brooklyn born professional, educator, and consultant who has committed his life to youth development and education. Jeffrey completed his education at Long Island University Brooklyn Campus, and it was there he procured a Bachelor’s degree in Health Science and a Master’s degree in Education.

In addition, he possesses over ten years of experience in youth development and community outreach. He is a visionary who is compelled by his love for young people and desires nothing more than to see young people awakened to their potential and purpose.

What makes Brooklyn so special to you? 

“Brooklyn has a special place in my heart. I was born and bred here. It’s engrained in my DNA and it has made me who I have become today. It’s diverse, historic and iconic.”

How did you first become involved with your profession? 

“It all started out with me volunteering as a youth counselor with different community based organizations when I was younger. Throughout the years, I realized that youth development wasn’t just something that I was passionate about, but it gave me a sense of purpose and direction. Now all I want to do is give back to the youth our city.”

What does the International Day of Friendship mean to you, and why do you look forward to it this year? 

“The International Day of Friendship is a day that celebrates Brooklyn as a “DIVERSE-CITY”. It embodies what our city represents; it brings forth a sense of vibrancy, community, unity, fashion, flare and culture.”

Representing Europe: Mairead Kate Burns

Kate is a rising senior at Fordham University in the Bronx, where she majors in political science and minors in sociology, with dreams of attending law school and eventually pursuing a career in sports and entertainment law post graduation. Representing Europe at this year’s International Friendship Day, she takes pride in her Irish roots: “While my father’s family immigrated to the United States a few generations ago, my mother immigrated here not long before I was born, so I am fully Irish!”

What makes Brooklyn so special to you?

“Brooklyn is special to me because it has so, so much to offer. Every neighborhood is completely unique, from the towering buildings of Downtown Brooklyn to the serene streets of Fort Greene, all the way up to the eccentric boardwalk of Coney Island. You have the ability to spend the day relaxing in Prospect Park or traveling down to DUMBO to enjoy the beautiful city skyline. Within walking distance of my house alone, I have access to authentic food from every type of culture and country you can think of. But most importantly to me, by attending school in Brooklyn my whole life I’ve made friends from every race, ethnicity and religion. I’ve learned so much about so many different cultures and countries because of the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made and that, to me, is the most invaluable privilege I’ve received from growing up here.  I’ve been all over the country and the world, but there is truly no place that comes close to Brooklyn.”

What does the International Friendship Day mean to you, and why do you look forward to it this year?

“The International Friendship Day highlights and celebrates the diversity of Brooklyn, which, to me, is one of its most important features. Although many of the major countries represented in NYC have their own annual parades, the International Friendship Day will represent and put on display even the more lesser-known nationalities residing in Brooklyn. I’m looking forward to seeing the performances from various cultures and grabbing a bite to eat from the variety of international foods that will be provided!”

Representing Caribbean: Wisblaude Thermidor

Born in Haiti and educated in the City’s public school system, Wisblaude Thermidor is enthusiastic about empowering youth through mentorship. As a passionate social entrepreneur, Wisblaude is committed to uplifting Caribbean small-scale farmers out of poverty to become independent agro-entrepreneurs.

In his spare time, he can be found singing in a church youth choir or playing soccer with his friends, and he enjoys going to museums, parks, and learning about African American history.

What makes Brooklyn so special to you?
“Who doesn’t want to be part of a vibrant community? Growing up in an immigrant family living in Brooklyn, I have been in a unique experience. For the first time in my life, I was exposed to a little taste of what the real world is like. Brooklyn provides me with a sense of microcosm of many integrated cultures. I have always been fascinated by its cultural performances, cuisine, art and music.”

How did you first become involved with your profession?
“The beauty of agri-business has always intrigued me. However, the relationship between poverty and economic disparities has held the most significant value in my life.  Capitated by the effects of poverty and health inequalities in the East Flatbush and Harlem communities, I was compelled to make a difference.”

What inspires you?
“In college, I was privileged to participate in a community-based project led by the City University of New York (CUNY) to combat the obesity epidemic that exists in underserved neighborhoods throughout the city of New York.This initiative allowed students to use classroom learning to tackle real-life problems. As a team leader, the focus of my project was to implement a Farmers Market in the East Harlem.  I have had the opportunity to work with the community board members to present our research findings and shared personal anecdote from members of the community.”

What does the International Friendship Day mean to you, and why do you look forward to it this year?
“The International Friendship Day provides a platform to display national pride and reminisce about a faraway home. This is an opportunity to celebrate the tastes, sights and sounds of the rich cultural diversity found in Brooklyn.  It’s a day that removes any social, economic or political borders, and thus has a wide appeal to people from different backgrounds and walks of life. By exposing our children within New York (Brooklyn) to this special day from a young age, they will grow to understand the true meaning of “cultural diversity,” and the importance of cultural identity. What a glorious way to celebrate the summer.”

Representing Africa: Justa Lujwangana

Justa Lujwangana is a Tanzanian diaspora, dancer, storyteller, traveler and founder of “Curious On Tanzania!”, an organization that connects people to the world of Tanzania through organized grassroot travel adventures by connecting explorers with the locals. Her desire is to serve as a bridge between Western society and her Tanzanian heritage. For Justa, her company is a way of reconnecting with her roots after leaving Tanzania at an early age.