Guests who attend one of the famous dinner parties hosted by Victoria Jabara and her family are advised to arrive hungry for an unforgettable experience. There is laughter, music and a warm community fellowship vibe as the Jabaras welcome friends, old and new, for delicious and authentic Mediterranean cuisine.
Jabara's close-knit, Lebanese family is the center of her world and the support system she relies on to help navigate the twists and turns of life. But friends and peers say Jabara has the unique ability to create a sense of family wherever she goes. As a senior marketing manager for BOK Financial®, much of her job during the past year has involved providing critical client communications related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In times of uncertainty, Jabara's leadership and compassion are a guiding light.
Jabara's friends and colleagues also recognize her passion for open discussions about racial injustice, diversity and inclusion—themes that have resonated with Jabara for most of her life. At 7, she emigrated to Tulsa with her parents and two brothers to escape the civil war that raged in Lebanon during the 1980s and early 1990s.
"It was best for my family to leave and escape that environment," Jabara said. "We had a lot of family in the U.S., my parents were afraid for our safety and they wanted us to have a safer childhood with more opportunities."
No one could have predicted the family tragedy that would unfold in August 2016 when Jabara's younger brother, Khalid, was shot and killed by a neighbor outside the family's home in what appeared to be a racially motivated incident. The gunman eventually was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
"You can't help but lament on the irony of it—how we came to America for safety—but now I can look at my brother's death as an isolated incident," Jabara said. "We have our good days and bad days, of course, but we're very family-, friend- and community-oriented. We couldn't have gotten through these past four years or moved forward without them."
The daughter of immigrants, Jabara prioritized education, earning a bachelor's degree in French and international relations from the University of Oklahoma and a master's in public policy from George Mason University in Washington, D.C. She launched her career with a five-year stint at the U.S. Department of State before moving to London to work in corporate marketing and the private sector. Other professional opportunities led her to Dubai and Beirut before returning to Tulsa in 2011.
Once back in Oklahoma, Jabara had a daughter, served on leadership boards for community organizations, and volunteered for groups including the Children's Abuse Network and the United Way.
Losing her brother was a turning point in her life, and the family vowed to turn its pain into a greater purpose. Jabara remembers Khalid as a loving brother and uncle with a quirky, sensitive and funny spirit. When the Jabara family searched for a way to honor his memory, they found inspiration in the innocent, unbiased hearts of children.
"I think because my daughter was 3 years old and in preschool at the time, I was interested in how we actively combat hate," Jabara said. "From an early childhood education approach in ages 0 to 5, it's like teaching numbers, colors and sharing—so why not incorporate the ideas of inclusivity, tolerance and diversity too?"
Her daughter's teacher and other staff members at Bnai Emunah Preschool in Tulsa helped develop the Social Justice Story Hour to memorialize Khalid and support educators committed to teaching equality. The literacy project features songs, skits and children's books about people who fought for justice.
"We watch the kids laughing, enjoying themselves and singing the songs, and it's pretty powerful. It brings peace to our hearts," Jabara said. "That's our mantra for the story hour—‘peace begins with me.' It's such an easy idea to understand and communicate."
Once word spread of the project, hundreds of books began pouring in from people around the world who had known Khalid or heard his story. In July 2017, the Jabara family dedicated the Khalid Jabara Tikkun Olam Library at Bnai Emunah to house children's books and resources related to diversity and social change.
"The story hours are a healing time where we can remember my brother, and we feel his presence there," she said.
Jabara and her brother Rami also established the Khalid Jabara Foundation to develop children's programming centered on peace and justice. Their efforts to prevent future tragedies surrounding discrimination inspired the federal Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden on May 20.
Included in the larger COVID-19 Hate Crimes Bill, the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act provides local, state and federal governments with funding to update their data crimes collection standards to the new National Incident-Based Reporting System. Khalid's death, though considered by many a racist act, was not recorded in the FBI hate crimes report. The legislation also authorizes federal grants to establish reporting hotlines for victims who might be reluctant to report a hate crime.
These initiatives have required much time and emotional energy, but it's how Jabara and her family grieve Khalid's death and celebrate his life.
Still, it's important to see Jabara beyond her tragedy, said her daughter's former preschool teacher, Caitlyn Wright.
"She's the ultimate gatherer of people, and she builds these webs of meaningful connection in such a thoughtful way," Wright said. "She's always busy, but you don't feel that when you're around her.
"She's raising her daughter, she's close with her mother, she's successful at work, she's committed to the foundation, she throws dinner parties, and she's one of the warmest and most capable people I know."
"We forget to let our personality shine in the corporate world sometimes because we're just trying to get things done," Jabara said. "You have to learn to let your guard down a little bit and have fun. Otherwise, you'd go crazy."
Jabara loves sketch comedy, music and improv theater. She's cultured, adventurous and young at heart. Close friend and foundation volunteer Shagah Zakerion said her friend's fun personality and trustworthiness reflect Jabara's zeal for life.
"She always shows up for the people who matter most to her, and I'm a better person for knowing her and her family," Zakerion said.