Nikia Marie Bilal can almost read people's minds when they see her hijab. Kept woman. Uneducated. Foreigner.
Someone even slowed their pickup truck one Fourth of July holiday to yell: "Go back to your own country!"
The car had already sped away by the time Bilal thought of her stinging retort: "I'm sure my people have been here longer than yours!"
Her ancestors came from Africa, but Bilal's family has been in America for generations. She grew up in Chatham, where her parents were converts to Islam. She first began wearing the hijab at 14 at her mom's insistence. Back then, strangers saw her headdress and thought she was a Catholic nun.
As she got older and embraced her head scarf as part of her identity, she began to care less and less what people thought.
"When people see you, they think one thing, and then you open your mouth and you show what you know and what your abilities are, and you give a totally different impression," Bilal says.
Bilal's abilities are impressive. A general litigation attorney, Bilal is one of six women in a new all-woman Muslim law firm -- possibly the first of its kind in the Chicago area and perhaps the country.
"We feel pretty revolutionary," says Bilal, sitting in a plush brown chair at the conference table at the Amal Law Group, which opened last week in Palos Heights. "I think it's a stereotype smasher because you don't think Muslim woman and think attorney." (MORE)