“I really believe it’s simple: the conflicts arise just because of our differences. And so noticing and understanding, from such a young age, that at the root of discrimination sit our differences, I have always been interested in learning and exploring those differences. That realization ignited my path in advocacy and peacemaking.”
- Shayan – Muslim American participant, 18 years old
I’m 18 years old, I live in a small suburb outside of Boston called Needham. I am a first generation Pakistani-American from a Muslim family.
The first day of kindergarten in Needham, I remember the teacher stumbling over my name—she sailed through the Stephanies and Seans—and then she came to my name, she looked around, squinting her eyes, and tried to say it—and all the kids looked at me. I remember feeling this very deep embarrassment—just for being there. That moment was a deep realization that I’m clearly different than other kids.
My name is just one thing, the smallest thing perhaps, of all the other parts of me that are different. This was a really important moment for me. Growing up with these types of personal experiences have made me more mindful of discrimination across the country, for different groups, not just my own. Like the structural racism or police treatment of African-Americans—my experience as a minority makes me super conscious of other groups who are discriminated against.
I really believe it’s simple: the conflicts arise just because of our differences. And so noticing and understanding, from such a young age, that at the root of discrimination sit our differences, I have always been interested in learning and exploring those differences. That realization ignited my path in advocacy and peacemaking.
Throughout middle school and high school, with my involvement in Kids4Peace, I’ve been able to take these things I was feeling, this issue of ‘difference’ and explore and build my empathy and awareness. At the Global Institute, where we lobbied in front of legislators who were in a position to make change, we felt like we actually had a voice to influence and enact change.
That experience made me realize that change can come, but change comes from policy—that people need to get involved to impact those decision makers. That experience has inspired me to think about working for a non-profit or in government in the future, organizing to make change in the community or create policy. So now I’m taking economics, and government policy classes—so I’m definitely interested in a career path along those lines and studying these issues in college.
I think we live in a world where dialogue and discourse is overlooked immensely—I think it’s partially because the climate of our country today has made people cynical about the potential for true understanding to come from personal engagement.
I don’t have all the answers to solve all these problems, but I do know that dialogue, when used as a tool, as a foundation for human connection, can help us face the problems we face today.