Social justice fatigue is no myth. The effort that it takes to immerse yourself completely in the act of working towards a better tomorrow is grueling. Striving to impact policy, hearts, and culture takes an emotional, physical, and mental toll. It’s intensely difficult to commit yourself to anything really, but there’s something distinctly unique about challenging systems that were made to silence you — made to survive the most true of critiques — made to continue to benefit those who epitomize the obstacle that is apathy.
The hardest part about this journey for me has been doubting the amount of change that I’ve been able to influence. It’s disheartening to commit yourself tirelessly to making a difference, but to look around to see such little progress. It is that often sensation of defeat that is so hard to swallow when you see how profoundly the world around you craves for systemic change that ensures equality. This has particularly been true in regards to racial justice as I have used countless tools accessible to me to speak honestly about the reality of this world. I have genuinely attempted to open the minds of my family, my classmates, and the global community to understanding the institutionalized injustices that people of color face in our society. It then becomes so difficult to come to terms with the rise of Trump, the extremity of police brutality, and the continued belittlement of minorities. There is also something so painful about realizing that your work will never be done. Social justice work can often feel like you are shouting in the dark, and that no one is truly listening to all that you are trying to inspire. It can feel alone — it can feel insufficient — it can feel drowning.
It’s not trivial to navigate the suffocating, murky, and infinite water of activism, but it is moments like the Princeton Prize Symposium that make you realize it is indeed possible. There aren’t words to articulate the feeling of looking around a room to see teenagers equally passionate about justice as you are. High school is characteristically apathetic, and immersing yourself in meaningful conversation with contemporary student leaders is a breath of fresh air in a world that is polluted with prejudice.
I was so honored to receive the 2016 Princeton Prize in Race Relations for Central/Southern New Jersey, and the idea of a three-day symposium at Princeton University with all the national winners innately excited me, but I couldn’t have anticipated the profundity of the event. Coming to understand the sameness of our fight, but difference in our experiences was enlightening. Realizing that even if it felt like our individual efforts were futile that there is incredible power in our collective organizing was heartwarming. Standing in solidarity with the the anger, laughter, and love of the remarkable honorees was empowering. Conversing with professors, community activists, established leaders, and diversity trainers in honest dialogues was cathartic. And in that catharsis, I realized who I was always meant to be. It’s easy to be a human drowning in the insurmountable realm of social justice, but standing in the Carl A. Fields Center with fiery spirits that demonstrated that every minute that I spend working on redefy is worth it — I found my inner dolphin. I learned that I can swim tirelessly — seemingly endlessly — in that sea. I learned that all I need to survive that pressure is the chance to catch my breath. I learned that like a dolphin — an elegant leap into the warmth, freedom, and bliss of the sun would be enough for me. I learned that the Princeton Prize was my sun as it gave me the chance to replenish my lungs with stories, smiles, and sincerity — and that if I tap into my inner dolphin — I won’t ever feel like I am drowning again — but that instead — I will traverse forward confidently, assuredly, and healthfully.
– Written by Ziad Ahmed (Founder and President of Redefy)