There is a stereotype of millennials as lazy, spoiled people who do nothing all day but engage in shallow activities and seek to take advantage of others. However, this stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth. This is especially brought into focus when one looks at someone like Ziad Ahmed, a Princeton, N.J. Muslim high school graduate who aspires to be a positive change in the world.
Ahmed gained fame this past year because he wrote #BlackLivesMatter one hundred times as the answer to one of his Stanford essay questions– and got accepted. But long before this flurry of media attention, he felt compelled to do something about the imperfectness of our society today.
This drive is echoed in his Twitter handle, @ziadtheactivist.
“There’s no one moment where I ‘became’ an activist,” said Ahmed. “The reason though that my [T]witter handle is @ziadtheactivist is that I want to define myself first by my desire for change.”
As early as middle school, he had noticed the manifestation of issues such as bigotry and the rigidity of gender norms in the society around him. As high school loomed on the horizon, “[he] realized [he] had to do something”.
That idea for wanting to do “something” sparked Redefy, a nonprofit Ahmed founded with a mission to “boldly defy stereotypes, embrace acceptance and tolerance, redefine our perspectives positively, and create an active community,” according to Redefy’s mission statement on its website. Today, Redefy brings together a team of over 300 students from all over the world with a common goal of working to further justice.
According to Ahmed, “[o]ver our last four years, [Redefy has] published hundreds of stories/articles, reached over 100,000 hits on [its] website, conducted numerous social media campaigns, held a conference at Princeton University entitled #TheGenerationOfNow, brought in many guest speakers, started clubs around the world, and really attempted to engage wherever we can in order to create a more inclusive society,” showing how an idea from a 14-year-old has made itself capable of a global reach.
“Since starting Redefy, I’ve been really fortunate to be a part of other projects, organizations, and movements that are working to achieve social justice, and that’s been a really exciting part of my journey,” reflected Ahmed.
One gets a glimpse of this teen’s passion for politics and social activism on his Twitter page, which until recently had a profile photo of him with Hillary Clinton, and a cover photo of him and a group of other young Muslims with then-President Barack Obama. The Obama group photo came about because Ahmed was invited to attend the 2015 White House Iftar and eat dinner with President Obama. Ahmed describes the experience as “surreal” and “one that continues to empower [him] to this day”. He saw it as a “moment of validation” to be heard by other “accomplished” people “working diligently to make this world a better place.”
Recalling the event, Ahmed said “the conversation touched on many of the political problems impacting our country, and taught me a great deal in a very short amount of time.”
Ahmed already has a fairly long resume. He is a co-founder of the organization JUV Consulting, an organization dedicated to giving teens a greater voice in the business world, and is on the marketing advisor board of DoSomething.org, an organization designed to help people do good for their communities, according to his Facebook page. He has interned in various branches of the government, including in Congress and the State Department, worked for Martin O’Malley’s 2016 Campaign for President, and volunteered with Hillary for America. As yet more proof of his drive for making positive social changes, he is deeply committed to community service, even traveling to Costa Rica, India, and Morocco for service purposes. He is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post.
As a Muslim-American, Ahmed wants people to know that “there’s nothing contradictory about [his] identity,” contrary to what some Americans believe about Muslims.
“I want people to hopefully see me as me because I really do believe that at our core — we are all more similar than we are different,” he said.
This fall, Ahmed is heading to Yale to start his college career, starting yet another chapter in an already-colorful life. Yet, on his personal website, he describes himself as “just your average teenager trying grappling with identity, struggling to balance it all, and pursuing his passions.”