Four days out of each week, Hamza Collins reports for his 12-hour shift as control room technician in the AES Thames power plant in Montville. But Collins, 52, is just as busy on his days off from the plant, working as volunteer civil rights director for the Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CT) in New London.

A native of New York, the Norwich resident spoke about the advocacy work he performs on behalf of Connecticut Muslims.

Q. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has reported that since 9/11, there has been a “significant increase” in charges alleging workplace discrimination against Muslims. Many Muslims wear head coverings – the hijab and the Kufi – and attend Friday prayer. What kinds of discrimination are Muslims facing in the workplace?

A. One case I am involved in deals with a male employee of a restaurant chain who was told he was being fired for having a beard. In fact, he was not the only employee with a beard, but was the only Muslim employee. I advised him to get photos of the other employees, which he did, and I told him that we could either file with Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities or with the EEOC, and the case is ongoing. I usually recommend CCHRO first so that we can mediate it there without going to court, which is costly for everyone. We’re not chasing the dollar here.

Q. How did you get your training in this type of advocacy work?

A. I was in the service in 1973, and my commander was putting EEO plans in place for my company. He came to me and said, “You are on the EEO board.” I was young and didn’t want to do it at that time, but he put me on that board.

My military training helped me, and I have my own desire to learn. I search the Internet, am constantly reading books and newspapers and can put two and two together. I have not gone to school to be a lawyer, but on an everyday basis as an African American, I know discrimination. I’ve lived it, I know it.


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