The story below is a preview from our January/February 2017 issue. For the full story Subscribe today, view our FREE interactive digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
Sam Rasoul: “Roanoke is just small enough that I believe one person can make a difference.”
When Sam Rasoul and I take our seats at The Quarter and order lunch (him with the black and blue chicken salad, me with the adult grilled cheese because cheese and bacon is everything), I’m most surprised by his quiet, unassuming demeanor.
Until, that is, he gets started on a topic near and dear to his heart. No, it’s not politics (as I’d first expected, given he’s the Virginia House of Delegates 11th district representative), but rather, his love for Roanoke and the people in it.
Rasoul’s parents brought the family from Ohio when Sam was only three; Roanoke is his hometown, as he attended Glen Cove Elementary, Greenvale School, Lord Botetourt High School, and graduated from Roanoke College. He’s the oldest of four and the child of immigrants. His parents ran a corner store in the ‘80s, while the family lived in a one-bedroom apartment in what’s now the Old Southwest neighborhood.
Now married with three small children of his own (two girls, ages 6 and 5, and a boy, age 3), he feels he’s really come full circle, and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
“I am just not a big city, traffic kind of guy,” he says, laughing. “Roanoke is a great place to raise a family. I like to tell everybody we have one of almost everything; we just don’t have 50 of everything! The quality of life has really come into balance with the developments of our city.”
Sam Rasoul ran for Congress in 2008, losing twice before finally winning his seat in the House. He admits that he wouldn’t have won without social media.
“[Social media] allows citizens to get ahold of our office. It gives them empowerment,” he says. “You’re experiencing frustration at some level, and so the point is to be able to alleviate that pain. Even when you can’t solve their problem, it’s empowering for them to have someone to respond. I’m saying that because it’s what I want, for my elected officials to be responsive, and that makes me feel good about being a citizen.”
He also takes pride in his transparency, believing it allows for better relationships with citizens. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t get tagged in a Facebook post, or responds to a message received through his page.
“The best thing I could ever give back to the people is just being an advocate for them, a voice for them,” he says. “It’s not about left and right, it’s about people caring. If I say I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it. Your concern is my concern, all the time...I take a lot of pride in trying to make sure they feel as though there’s someone fighting for them all the time.”
In addition, to honor a campaign promise, Rasoul created “Our Valley, Our Pledge.” He contributes campaign funds back to charities around the Roanoke Valley.
When he’s not working, Sam and wife Layaly spend quality time with their children at “whatever places are kid-friendly.” Rasoul also loves sports, playing basketball two to three times a week at Green Ridge Recreation Center. He loves to get outdoors, too, recently taking his kids to Tinker Creek for a hike (replicating childhood memories of hikes there with his father).
To those who want to make an impact on the local levels, whether it be for government, education or another path, Rasoul encourages them to contact him directly. Rather than a generic suggestion, he believes in personal conversation that gets to the root of what your goals are for your cause and how you can achieve them.
“You don’t invite, you include,” he says. “It takes open minds, on-the-ground hard work and lots of teamwork. It’s a good example of how we create an ecosystem to ensure we’re synergistic, that we can open minds in all corners of our city. Roanoke is just big enough that there are big challenges and just small enough that I believe one person can make a difference.”