Whenever I opened my Superman lunch box in elementary school, by the reactions of my peers you would have thought I had just unleashed a wave of noxious gas. Every kid within a 15-foot radius of me wrinkled their noses in disgust. “EEEWWWW, what is that smell!” A dozen fingers would then all point at the tasty lunch my immigrant mother from Bangladesh had carefully packed at 6:30 that morning. This experience is nearly universal among kids of immigrants, who spend their lunchtimes hunting for a table where they will sit alone so as not to be ostracized for the “weirdness” of their food. With every “EEEWWWW!” they are made to feel small and with every lunch alone their isolation becomes the norm. I was that kid, and it took years for me to feel comfortable in my very Muslim identity in Kalamazoo Michigan. Joining Beyond Differences’ National Teen Board is my way of reaching out to all those isolated kids who feel they must choose between their authentic selves and being utterly alone.
Before Activist Academy, I was most looking forward to working with fellow National Teen Board Members to gain the skills to build a curriculum for belonging focused on younger immigrants and refugees. During the Academy, the people I met were some of the most genuine, impassioned activists I have ever encountered. The bonds I formed at Activist Academy are undoubtedly the best part of the program and are friendships I will cherish for the rest of my life.
The skills I gained over the four days have prepared me to inspire students across the country to build cultures of inclusion in their schools. The trainings, which varied from building personal purpose statements to body mapping, focused highly on encouraging pride in personal identity and working to uplift others out of social isolation. This knowledge is essential in providing marginalized youth with the assistance needed to find their voices, live proudly as they are, and fight to create inclusion.
My time at Activist Academy has been life-changing and employed me with the skills necessary to be a stronger activist and leader. I cannot wait for what the National Teen Board will do in the coming year. My team is so strong and I believe we will be able to make a real impact in schools across the nation. When we work together, I often transport back to my third-grade self in the cafeteria at Angling Road Elementary School, clutching my Superman lunch box and looking for a place to sit. In the work we are doing, we are ensuring different outcomes for kids like me. I believe our work will make it so that refugee and migrant kids will be welcomed with open arms, and celebrated for our differences.
Beyond Differences National Teen Board Member
The misson of Beyond Differences® is to inspire students nationwide to end social isolation and create cultures of belonging for everyone. We envision a world where all youth are accepted, valued, and included no matter their differences. Beyond Differences® offers FREE SEL curriculum, lesson plans, and supplies’ to middle school educators all across the nation. Bring our programs to your school today!