CATEGORY: Advocacy, Leading for Racial Equity, Students

Melissa Nov 30, 2023

Fatima Sheriff is more than a straight-A student at Achievement First Amistad High School in New Haven, Connecticut. Fatima is active in her school and an advocate for her community. This past spring, Fatima spoke at Capitol Hill on behalf of the Muslim community about an issue that is important to her personally and that affects many practicing Muslims in the US. How did she go from an AP Government class to the US Capitol? Fatima entered Mr. Ken Soder's AP Government and Political Science class as a junior with few expectations. She emerged inspired and ready to take on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. "When I first signed up for AP Government with Mr. Soder, I didn't have high expectations [that I’d become passionate about government and policy], but we took a field trip to DC for winter break to learn about real-life politics for real-world experience. I learned about advocating for my community, and I loved it." Fatima's class trip to the capitol helped her realize that she could change things in this country, even as a young high school student, and she is thankful to Mr. Soder for bringing that to light. Mr. Soder has taught history and politics at Amistad High School for over 13 years and was a public school teacher before joining Achievement First. He says, "Fatima was in my AP Government and Politics class, and we developed a good relationship." On the class trip to Washington, DC, in February, a new tradition at the school, the students explored DC, and Fatima's interest in politics grew from that trip. Being in DC inspired her to apply for summer programs in the area, and she was accepted to a pre-college summer program at Georgetown University. "She's an amazing student; she has taken as many AP college courses as possible. She is young and super driven," Mr. Soder shares. "I was able to get to DC again after the class trip," Fatima explains, "I was nominated to go. Rosa DeLauro, the congresswoman and US representative for Connecticut's 3rd congressional district encouraged me when I told her that I was interested in politics but didn't know if I was too young to get involved," Fatima explained. When the US Council of Muslim Organizations, USCMO, contacted Fatima and asked young practicing Muslims to represent their community in DC, Fatima had several ideas based on the prompt, which was "What would you like, on the national level, to change for Muslims in terms of civil rights and education?" Fatima had an excellent idea for this. She thought about having Eid as a nationally recognized holiday or national day off, like Good Friday. To have the beginning and end of Ramadan as days off, as they are both significant days for Muslims, would be fair for people who want to recognize this important holiday. Fatima knows that her parents were unable to miss work for Ramadan and how many Muslim people in the US have to maneuver around their jobs to practice their faith. After Fatima wrote her speech, she shared it with Mr. Soder, and he advised her how to narrow the scope, especially since it had to be kept to five minutes, provide facts or testimonials to support her claim, and include personal experience. Fatima began narrowing down her ideas to fully utilize this incredible opportunity to speak to US government officials on issues facing the Muslim community. "I wanted to talk about problems in the Muslim community. I asked Mr. Soder for advice on the speech, as I had many ideas but didn't know which to start with. My first idea was introducing the idea of having students pray inside schools. I then started looking at the problems my family was going through. My father is a hard-working man, and if Eid were a recognized holiday, people like him would have time off to see their families." Fatima explained. "I experienced a lot of hardships throughout my life, so when I had the opportunity to get nominated and speak on Capitol Hill, I wanted to fix things and tackle Islamophobia," Fatima explained, and having Ramadan be recognized could be the first step to combating Islamophobia. "I want everyone to feel safe," Fatima said. While Fatima credits Mr. Soder for why she became interested in politics, she recognizes that her interest in politics and her work could have far-reaching results. "If my idea is considered, it would make me happy. It would mean a young person could positively affect millions." When asked how her speech went, Fatima said she was nervous, but "it was great!" Ultimately, Fatima has learned a lot from this experience. "If you want to advocate for something, you can. Being in DC and having these high-powered people talk to me felt good, like my voice was heard." Fatima said she's returning to DC for pre-college and is very excited. She's decided to study law first, become a civil lawyer, and then go into politics. "I thought I had to choose between them, but I can do both!” We can’t wait to see what Fatima does next. If you want to learn more about Amistad High School, please visit our website. See more from Amistad High School on their Instagram account.

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