In this week’s installment of the Spotlight Series, we bring you a conversation with Iman Abdul, born and raised in Brooklyn, who has dedicated her life to empowering New York City youth, championing the right of every child to a free, culturally responsive, equitable, and just education. Check out a few excerpts from our interview with Iman below!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I live in Brooklyn, NY and I’m a student at The City College of NY, double majoring in Childhood Education & Sociology, minoring in Latin American & Latino Studies. I’m the Director of Education & Engagement at IntegrateNYC a youth-led organization advocating for equal and equitable “real” school integration in NYC’s intensely segregated public school system. I’ve also worked on several progressive political campaigns this past summer such as current Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, current State Senator Julia Salazar, and Ross Barkan. I was a youth community organizer for the grassroots Ross Barkan campaign, organizing to engage youth in politics.
What is your earliest memory of activism?
My earliest memory of activism was observed. I was about 6-7 years old when I was exposed to daily graphic scenes in Palestine on the Arabic news channels that my father would watch. I remember feeling so heart broken and always wanting to physically advocate for their justice. My first active participatory event was when I was about 12 years old. It was outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in NYC against the demolition of a religious site in their city, Medina. My dad brought my mom, sister, and I along with him.
How old were you when you first realized you could make a difference in your community?
It wasn’t until the 11th grade, when I was 16 years old, that I realized I had the ability to make positive change in my community. Being one of only a couple students of color in my school, my friends and I wanted to have a cultural safe space. I didn’t encounter my first Latina teacher until the 10th grade so after we established our relationship with her, my friends and I, along with our teacher, established the “Hispanos Unidos” club in our predominately white, screened high school. A few months after it was established, my friends and I joined PRHYLI (Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute ). That was the major push for our leadership and advocacy work.
Do you think it’s important for young people to be involved in civic engagement programs like SLP?
100%! Youth voices matter. The youth voice is extremely valuable and essential to the crisis that we are living in today. The Civil Rights movement was lead by young people. We are current, we are the future, we are the gatekeepers, we are the leaders of tomorrow.
If you could give other student activists one piece of advice, what would it be?
SELF-LOVE!!! This is extremely crucial to any work you do. If you don’t love yourself then you will not truly love what you do anywhere, anytime. When you love yourself, you become your strongest and boldest self. You become unstoppable. You need to love you before you love anyone else. You can’t give anyone 100% if you don’t give yourself 100% first. Take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Thank you to the International Congress of Youth Voices for helping SLP to reach Iman!
The International Congress of Youth Voices unites students, ages 16 to 20, from around the world to learn with and from accomplished writers, activists, and elected officials. Founded by author Dave Eggers (co-founder of 826 National) and nonprofit leader Amanda Uhle, the inaugural event took place August 3, 4, and 5, 2018, in San Francisco. Youth delegates came to us from the United States, Iraq, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Syria, Ireland, Australia, Iceland, Burundi, Honduras, Cuba, Denmark, Venezuela, Zambia, and Nepal.
Politics of the world affect young people as much as anyone else, and they have little to no voice as major decisions are made. The Congress was founded as a means to amplify their ideas and energy and to unite young people for a weekend of collaboration. Student delegates are chosen based on their commitment to leadership and social justice and their passion and eloquence as writers. The event is designed to provide a path to leadership for all delegates and represents a continuum from students who have exhibited potential in local writing and tutoring programs to writers and activists who have already made notable achievements at a very young age.