Taking a risk on college applications isn’t always advised, but for high school senior Ziad Ahmed, the answer to "What matters to you, and why?" wasn’t necessarily a risk.
The American-Muslim teenager answered that Stanford University application question with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter over and over again until the word limit was reached. When he got accepted to the prestigious college, his tweet went viral. But Ahmed doesn’t want attention to be focused on just that moment.
"The question asked what matters to you and why. But when I thought about why, I realized that the insistence on explaining the meaning of the hashtag is inherently problematic and the “why” is embodied in the words themselves," Ahmed said in a statement provided.
Ahmed explained that as he finished his application, he realized he needed to insert more of his own voice. "It was important to me that the admissions officers literally hear my impatience for justice and the significance of this issue."
"I wanted to convey not only my passion by taking the unconventional risk but also by demonstrating how my words represent my willingness to stand in solidarity with the courageous women of color leading this vital movement and those resisting everyday," he wrote. "The hashtag conveys my frustration with our failure to protect the black community from violence, systemic inequity, and disenfranchisement and the need for change."
The Princeton, New Jersey-based teen isn’t new to resisting things — he clearly has a passion for it. The high school senior is also the founder of Redefy, a nonprofit organization that challenges stereotypes and engages students, bringing them important conversations on different injustices. Additionally, he’s founded a youth consulting firm JÜV Consulting Inc and already has political experience on his resume, including stints on both Martin O’Malley and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns.
"Much of my passion for social justice derives from the fact that I am a practicing Muslim," Ahmed wrote. "Islamophobia has certainly been a priority of mine in my advocacy, but it is connected to the legacy of racism and oppression that the black community continues to face," he said, explaining that a large portion of American-Muslims are black.
"I wish that the focus today was not one response in my application, but on the issues and injustices that need our attention and each person’s ability to play a role in combating institutionalized bigotry and racism," he explained. "The job of Generation Z, in my view is to understand our history as we harness the innovation of technology and apply our talents, intellect, and grit to create a more better future."
It is so critical to direct attention to the organization that has made #BlackLivesMatter what it is: https://t.co/Bt3PmObyyQ. Visit today.
— Ziad Ahmed (@ziadtheactivist) April 4, 2017
As far as his own future, Ahmed is still deciding what school to attend and until he chooses, he is going to be seeped in reflection.
"To be honest, this week has been quite overwhelming. I’ve been so grateful for the outpouring of support, congratulations, and love, but the power of social media has also provoked significant trolling and personal attacks," he said. "It’s certainly been a hard to navigate and the vitriol is sobering."
He’s made it clear in a series of tweets that he would like attention to be directed towards organizations and women of color doing work for the movement for black lives, guiding his followers to read information from We The Protestors, Campaign Zero, and more.
The reactions to his tweet have gone viral, but they’ve reminded him to "find innovative ways to disrupt and create positive change, to be a constructive and respectful ally, and to be better a person," And we don’t doubt he will.