Muslim-American teen Zaid Ahmed was faced with an essay prompt that usually calls for hundreds of words, numerous drafts, and a well-crafted essay. Instead, he answered Stanford University's question, "What matters to you, and why?" with a single phrase, which he wrote out 100 times. His response? "#BlackLivesMatter."
The risk paid off: Ahmed learned of his acceptance to the California university, and tweeted his surprise.
"My unapologetic progressivism is a central part of my identity, and I wanted that to be represented adequately in my application," Ahmed explained to Refinery29. "The insistence on an explanation is inherently dehumanizing," he said. "Black lives have been explicitly and implicitly told they don't matter for centuries, and as a society — it is our responsibility to scream that Black lives matter because it is not to say that all lives do not matter, but it is to say that Black lives have been attacked for so long, and that we must empower through language, perspective, and action."
The 18-year-old Bangladeshi-American didn't get in just for his powerful statement of purpose. In fact, he's given a TedxTalk in Panama City, Panama on the impact of stereotypes on Muslim teens; led Martin O'Malley's youth presidential campaign and interned for 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton; and former president Barack Obama even invited him to the White House Iftar dinner to recognize him as a Muslim-American change-maker.
His resume is impressive for sure: he's also been accepted to Princeton and Yale, and has until May to decide where he'll spend the next four years. But what's perhaps even more impressive is his reason for his response: "As an ally of the black community though, it is my duty to speak up in regards to the injustice, and while this was not a form of 'activism' as it was simply an answer in a college application," he said. "I wanted to make a statement."
"To me, to be Muslim is to be a BLM ally, and I honestly can't imagine it being any other way for me," Ahmed said. "Furthermore, it's critical to realize that one-fourth to one-third of the Muslim community in America are black ... and to separate justice for Muslims from justices for the black community is to erase the realities of the plurality of our community."