I’ve struggled a lot with writing this. Writer’s block is not something I often experience, but for some reason personally reflecting on this last year has been particularly difficult for me. My fingers have not been able to type the words necessary to begin to articulate my feelings about 2015. I sit here now though, 25 days into 2016, realizing that introspection is necessary for progress. I write this now, realizing that progress is necessary.
For the people who know me, it won’t come as a surprise that I don’t give myself a lot of time to breathe. I’m one of those people that is overwhelmed with the feeling that I should be doing more — always. I’ve channeled a lot of that energy into redefy as truly social justice is my greatest passion. My disposition is not unique though. If there is anything that I have noticed through attempting to organize youth, it is that the standards that society has set for us have made it very difficult for our generation to be content — satisfied — or even happy.
It’s troubling. It’s troubling because I work so hard everyday to create a world that is more safe, accepting, and aware for all of our children, but I’ll never know — never believe — that my efforts are enough. It’s troubling because I observe a world where girls are told to be lesser — overtly or subliminally. It’s troubling because I am pained by the reality that people of color are even less likely to ever feel good enough in a world that tells them to be silent. It’s troubling because I know many will read those past sentences with looks of disdain as they choose to belittle social change in response to the piercing of their nearly impenetrable bubbles of privilege.
I have not yet decided whether 2015 was a year defined by being problematic or being hopeful. My heart quakes thinking about police brutality, anti-Muslim bigotry, murders of trans people, the refugee crisis, the Rohingya struggle, the continued occupation of marginalized peoples, discrimination against LGBT people, violations of women’s rights, and all the ugly manifestations of bigotry. I would be foolish though not to remember where we have seen strength, change, and love. So, I stand at a crossroads trying to navigate whether I should be a likable optimist in regards to my activism or an unapologetic realist that most people don’t want to be around.
I deal with that juxtaposition everyday. I’m a junior in high school, so naturally a part of me wants to fit in. It feels good to laugh, to love, to be loved. The reality is though that no one likes the “social justice warriors” that call out people for their micro-aggressions, biases, and blatantly unfunny jokes. So, I ask myself, who do I want to be? Am I at any point maintaining friendships at the cost of advocating for what is right? How can I deem my social life more important than the millions being denied basic human rights?
I don’t have answers to those questions. I dream of a world where my friends all embraced furthering the cause of equality with open arms. I pray that one day I can look around and those that I love will be protesting next to me irrespective of their color, gender, race, sexual orientation, sex, or anything. I want to be surrounded by those that allow their empathy to guide their actions, but unfortunately the societal standard for high school discourse hasn’t allowed for much of that.
I’m determined to change that though. If there is one message I want to leave my classmates, peers, and contemporaries, it is that complacency is inflammatory. Doing nothing is a choice. When we decide to party, gossip, and engage in frivolous activity, instead of #stayingwoke, we make a conscious decision to be complicit in the subjugation of millions of people. That is a reality we all must confront in order to make systemic change.
We are making change though. 2015 is a year I will never forget. On the surface, I went from the “somewhat relevant redefy kid” to the “kid that met the President.” Underneath the surface, I’ve grown up. In March of last year, Rae Paoletta changed my life forever as she published the first MTV news article about me. Since then, I’ve had to fully immerse myself in this work to demand better for this world. Redefy’s statistics have blown up in 2015 as shown by our official reflection (https://redefy.org/2016/01/01/2015-official-reflection/), and I’ve been so lucky to work with hundreds of students, civil rights leaders, and activists from all around the world to promote our mission.
When I look back at 2015, I’m disheartened at the state of the reality, but more than that — I’m inspired by those who refuse to be complacent.
Here’s to 2016 where none of us are bystanders in the systems of oppression affecting all of us.
– Written by Ziad Ahmed (Redefy Founder and President)