Listen to the digital audio version of “I’m Telling My Own Story.”
“What does that mean, Mommy? Why are you crying, Mommy?” My first words that left my mouth when Trayvon Martin was killed. I was 10 years old.
I kept asking my mom what police brutality meant, but from her face, I could tell she didn’t want to tell me. I then asked my aunt who gave me the “talk” most black kids get.
This was the first time I understood what being an African-American Muslim girl in America meant. From that very moment, I knew I needed to become the change I wanted to see in my community.
That event led me to break away from my shyness and educate myself about the injustices minorities face. For the first time, I understood my voice needed to be heard. I knew that in order to highlight the untold stories in my community, I needed to learn more. As I started to research more about police brutality, I noticed the media mostly shared the stories of only black men.
I came across the campaign called #SayHerName and the work of Dr. Crenshaw. Through her work, I started to learn about intersectionality and feminism, which helped find me my confidence in my identity. The confidence inspired me to look into specific programs, like Girls Inc that supports feminism.
Girls Inc is a STEM-based program that introduced me to Girls Inc National. I applied with 500 other high school students and was the only elected representative for Minnesota. As a part of Girls Inc National, I started to promote a campaign called #GirlsToo, which educates girls about sexual harassment and domestic violence. While working on the campaign, I shared it on social media. We had hundreds of thousands of people join the campaign including Oprah, Joe Biden and Lady Gaga.
With the #GirlsToo campaign, I also started the Black Student Union in my school, with the help of other students and faculty. Creating a Black Student Union was important because I felt there was a lack of representation at our school.
While doing this work, a teacher introduced me to a program called GEMS. The program’s main purpose led by Dr. Brittany Lewis highlights black women. She taught me to advocate for myself, black women around me, helped me share my story, and conduct a study about how colorism affects young black girls. We planned a city town hall event, which was one of our most important pieces of work. We highlighted how the juvenile, housing, health/wellness and education systems are failing black women/girls.
To ensure change we invited many people who had power in our community to our event. To confirm our guests would bring change to our community, we asked policymakers to sign a contract and respond to the event in a sixty-day period. We invited Keith Ellison, the Department of Education, superintendent of St. Paul Public Schools, commissioners and other influential speakers. At this event, I also talked with Valerie Castile after her speech, who strongly emphasized how she and her family were still coping with the death of her son, Philando Castile. As a group, we agreed this discussion regarding the lack of representation among black youth was essential.
All of this work over the last few years has taught me if I want to see change, I need to educate myself and make it happen. In college I want to major in chemistry and journalism with a minor in public relations. Someday, I want to work at the United Nations because I want to be able to publish and tell the stories of people living in undeveloped countries. I want to become the change I want to see in the world.