A question I get a lot is: why? Why did you decide to create this organization to defy stereotypes and embrace acceptance in the summer after 8th grade?
A lot of people assume they know the answer – it’s simple: he did it for college. Those people could not be farther from the truth. I started redefy because of who I want to be. I have grown up in a world where I will always be different. I live in a Judeo-Christian Caucasian-centric society, while I am Muslim and Bangladeshi. My color is something that people always see first. I cannot count the times my peers have casually remarked the infuriating microaggression, “you’re cute for a brown guy.” I started this organization because I recognize I am more than my color. I started this organization because it makes me physically ill when I hear the words “gay” and “annoying” used synonymously everyday – and I refuse to be quiet about it. I did this because I have never subscribed to the concept of teenage immortality, and if I die tomorrow, I want to have died trying to initiate a positive change in this world. I started this organization because I saw a need in my community, and I wanted to confront it – to address it in the way that I best could. I am a non-conformist, and redefy is the embodiment of my hope that no non-conformist should have to go through adversity to “fit-in.” I started redefy because I believe in a world for my children where any child can walk into school and be accepted. I started redefy because racism, homophobia, and blatant bigotry exist. Ironically, the answer to “why” I started redefy is the lack of my peers and my community asking themselves “why?”
In starting an organization, sending countless e-mails, planning and hosting events, initiating campaigns, and running social media pages, my goal is for people to care. For my work to be worth it, I want people to genuinely care about the cause of social justice and read a redefy article or go to an event and really walk away having gained knowledge, a fresh perspective, or an accepting friend and community. My greatest struggle in starting redefy has sadly been for my peers to care. So many of my friends and teenagers in general completely dismiss redefy. There is this idea in the teenage cultural fabric that only certain things are worth discussing: crushes, parties, problems, and maybe school if there is a grade involved. Given the high school dilemma of juggling school, sports, extracurriculars, a social life, relationships, and sleep – high schoolers do not prioritize the cause of social justice. I cannot tell you how many times a day I call my classmates out for using derogatory terms and desperately trying to calmly articulate why it’s wrong to cast a people as inferior or insinuate a sexuality is inferior, but I’ve found that sadly, they don’t care. I’ve found that many of my classmates don’t care about the stories of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner. I’ve found that smart and good kids aren’t thinking about social justice and trying to create a world where their child will be loved and accepted. I’ve found that the majority of the people around me are choosing to be ignorant – and I’ve made it my life’s mission to change that.
I pray that one day people care, that people – especially teenagers – look at redefy and say you know what, “I’m with that, let’s make a difference.”
I think that I’ve somehow cluttered this reflection with far too much negativity, and while everything I’ve said remains true, I’ve been blessed. I’ve been blessed to have also found people who do care in redefy’s leadership team, school representatives team, those who have contributed stories, those who are engaged in our social media, those who come to our events, and many others. I thank every single person who has contributed to our cause and has helped redefy’s mission reach more people.
This organization has allowed me the opportunities to meet a lot of people that I would not otherwise have met. I’ve been truly fortunate to meet so many people who have devoted their lives to non-profit and have fruitful discussions with them. I have learned more in this last year about myself and the world around me than I could have possibly imagined. My work with redefy has also allowed me to be on the executive board of a local social justice organization, Not In Our Town, and I’ve been truly privileged to be included in such powerful work with such remarkable individuals. redefy has allowed me to learn. I was not as aware before I started this organization, and through the people I have met and the stories I have heard, I’ve learned.
redefy and everyone in my life have given me the distinct privilege of becoming a more aware, accepting, and determined person, and I cannot wait for 2015 and all the growth this organization will bring me and my community.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart – thank you.
Here’s to a 2015 where our kids are accepted, where ignorance isn’t bliss, and where people care enough to ask why.
– Written by Ziad Ahmed (Founder)