Throughout middle school and the beginnings of high school, Ziad Ahmed always had to explain himself. As a Bangladeshi-American, he grew up knowing that he was considered "other than." This harsh reality hit home when he realized that his aspiration to become president of the United States was more of a pipe dream due to the misconceptions that often surround those of his Muslim religion and culture.
The summer before his freshman year of college, he knew he had to incite change in his community. After reaching out to his friends and forming a team, the 16-year-old Princeton Day School high school student officially launched Redefy September of 2013. The organization's mission was and is simple yet is a huge undertaking: Defy stereotypes and end racism.
"I created Redefy, because I felt is was imperative that every student, every person, is accepted," he told A Plus in an email interview. "It makes me sick that a student may be excluded because of something they can't control."
The group partners with other organizations and students to raise awareness and fight stigmas as well as collects story submissions from students who have personal anecdotes or insights on racism, acceptance and stereotypes to share.
Take Nicole Hartley for instance. The 10th grade Princeton Day School student submitted an essay on how she has been harassed by others because of her ethnicity:
The text reads:
I am frequently asked the question, "What are you?" as if I am not human. However, that is not the worst of it. In my middle school, students were either placed into honors math or regular. I was placed into regular. At first I didn't mind that I wasn't the smartest, until I was hit with a flurry of belittling questions. People would often ask me, "Why aren't you in the smart math class?—Oh I know why, because you are only half Asian, and therefore half smart." I felt degraded, and even more than that, I started to hate being mixed. As middle school progressed, I evolved in people's eyes from being half-Asian to full Asian. In the hallways, people would yell "OPEN YOUR EYES!" jokingly.
Alex Neumann, a 10th grader who came out as gay to his peers, also shared his experiences with stereotyping. This time, not because of race, but because of his sexual orientation:
I didn't have to deal with stereotypes when I was younger. I was a typical upper middle class white male. It was only after I came out to my classmates that I began to receive a label, and realize the power of stereotyping. Almost over night, I didn't sing because I wanted to learn how to, I sang because I was gay. My style was no longer strange, it was "fabulous." My habits and tendencies weren't mine, ideas sprouted from some larger gay thought process. I became "lucky to be gay", because I can stand out during the college process. I was all of a sudden "so similar to Kurt from Glee" or "just like *insert favorite gay character.*" Somehow, "it all made sense now" that I came out, my entire personality could fit into a rainbow colored box.
In addition to personal stories, Redefy partnered with Not In Our Town - Princeton, a racial injustice organization Ahmed also serves on the board for, and Princeton CHOOSE, a local high school racial injustice awareness group, to stamp out racism and judgements visually through the #PrincetonAgainstRacism project.
Ahmed brought a white board and markers to school and asked over 100 classmates to finish the sentence "I stand against racism because..."
The responses proved he isn't the only one tired of the hate.
It's stories like those of these students that drive Ahmed and his team to continue the Redefy mission. Since launching the initiative, they've amassed over 1,700 Facebook likes, 400 Twitter followers and, most importantly, a great deal of awareness.
"I have witnessed the usage of microagressions decrease at my school, and the level of awareness increase," he told A Plus. "So much bullying, negativity and hate derives from avoidable ignorance."
Let's help him continue to spread the word.