When I learned that a young brown, Muslim boy had been arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school, my heart fell. It seemed like just another example of how people, especially those who should know better, can be horrible and, in fact, are horrible. I worried about what would happen to the boy, Ahmed Mohamed, and how this would affect him. In an early story, he vowed never to bring another invention to school and said that the experience was humiliating and dehumanizing. Those seemed like the words of a boy who had been brutalized and would be unlikely to trust educational figures, authority figures, or his own judgment for a long time.
Then, something wonderful happened. The President Tweeted, “Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great,” and shows of support began pouring in. Ahmed received thousands of positive Twitter responses, an invitation from Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame, an invitation to do a tour of the Texas Academy of Math and Science (TAMS), this kind letter from George Takei, and numerous other letters, invitations, and praise. A local hacker organization even donated hardware for him to continue working and experimenting with as well as a one year scholarship to the TheLab.ms organization. In about 24 hours, he tone of his interviews changed from sober and confused to smiling, happy, and hopeful.
This sudden reversal was entirely unexpected, at least for me. I saw the Internet outrage and shared it, feeling perplexed and angry that a school would do this to a kid, but I didn’t expect anything good to come from it. While I fully endorse armchair activism, it doesn’t always yield actual results. Too often, it’s just people talking big, starting arguments, and trolling others. It takes effort to actually do something, and most people are too busy, lazy, or apathetic to do anything about it.
So the fact that thousands of people and dozens of organizations showed their support in real ways means that Ahmed’s situation actually touched people. People actually understood how wrong it was for the school and local police to treat him this way. They actually understood how detrimental this event could be and how it could haunt him for the rest of their life. And they said that was unacceptable.
As a child of abuse, this made me feel hopeful. It made me feel like people do have sympathy for abuse victims, despite the media coverage of high-profile cases. It made me feel like if I reached out and talked to someone about my experience, they would care. But most importantly, it made me feel like kids that are currently receiving abuse have a shot at a better, more supportive future.
I want to believe that compassion exists in this world, but personal experience and what’s shown on the news would indicate it doesn’t. Those two pieces of evidence say that people are brutal, angry, incapable of positive change, and always willing to take advantage of someone weaker than them. They tell me that nothing gets better, no matter how far you run or how high you rise. Something will always be there to take you down.
But maybe that’s not the case. If people around the country and faceless organizations could take an interest in Ahmed, maybe they’ll take an interest in others who, unlike him, don’t have a supportive family or media coverage. Maybe they’ll realize that discrimination, abuse, and discouragement of academic pursuits happens all the time, not just in Texas, in high school, or in suburbia. Maybe the next time someone asks them to give to a nonprofit, to volunteer to mentor a kid, or to sign a petition, they will. Maybe this is an actual sign that society is shifting from a less selfish and judgmental mindset to a more supportive and inclusive one.
I’m not naïve enough to say this is the clarion call for world peace and love (That would actually be criminally naïve.), but reading about all the people and organizations that support Ahmed soothed me in a way that only neatly organized sharpened pencils can. It calmed me, centered me, and freed me of some of the fear and suspicion I am perpetually under. It made me more able to face the Republican candidates, judgmental patrons, and a phone call from family. And that says something – something good.