Our 2016 Winner?
Could be you!
The 2016 Empowering Women of Color Conference is hosting a youth creative writing contest! This year, we are inviting young people to submit a creative writing piece (essay, poem, or short story) that reflects on the themes of EWOCC 2016. Apply here.
Our 2015 Winner: Marwat Al-Olefi
We are excited to announce Marwat Al-Olefi as the winner of our youth creative writing contest! Read on to learn more about Marwat and to read her winning submission!
My name is Marwat Al-Olefi, and I am a young Muslim women who loves to write. I am currently a sophomore at Life Academy of Health and Bioscience. I enjoy raising awareness around Islamic culture. I am one of the co-founders of the Muslim Students Association in my high school, and I feel it is important for me to educate my peers on what it means to be a Muslim. I have found a lot of support amongst my peers and teachers, who have helped me face my fears and enabled my voice to soar. I am also working with All City Council, a student union that seeks to empower student voices within the Oakland Unified School District and serve as a bridge between adult decision makers and the student body.
Many of you have heard about France’s recent ban on “public face covering.” If we remove the law’s sugar coating, we are left with the fact that it targets Muslim women who choose to wear the full-face veil. Some may disagree, but, as a Muslim woman, I believe what I believe.
Some of you may have also heard of WISH, which stands for Women In Solidarity with Hijabis. Wonderful Australian sisters who believed that Muslim women should be allowed to wear whatever they want launched this campaign. They fought and helped people see a Muslim woman’s perspective by having a world hijab day: on February 1, non-Muslims who wanted to know what it would feel like to wear a hijab for a day participated and felt others’ tense attention on them. That day opened many women’s minds and showed solidarity to those who have and are still dealing with verbal and physical abuse for wearing a hijab. As many have shared what it was like to wear a hijab for their first time, I have decided to share my own experience wearing it for my first time and still wearing it to this day.
The summer before I began middle school, my mother asked me if I wanted to start wearing a hijab. I responded that, yes, I would love to start wearing it and would be honored. And so I did. My first day of middle school arrived, and I was excited and nervous about how people would react. As I walked into school, eyes immediately focused on my hijab. I felt everyone was judging who I am because of something I was wearing.
As I found a seat in the classroom, the teacher immediately began with games to help us get to know one another. I was excited and thrilled to meet new people. Sadly, no one came up to me and asked me to participate with them. I felt hurt and realized that my classmates didn’t approach me because of what I was wearing on my head.
So I isolated myself from my classmates. I hated working with a group or a partner because I couldn’t talk without their eyes going up and staring at my hijab. Day after day, I would get the same response from everyone I tried to talk to. I hated school and counted the days I had left until summer. I felt lonely and miserable, yet I still came to school every day and wore my hijab. As the months passed, I got used to the looks and managed to ignore them.
One day in my math class, a boy looked at me and asked me with a smirk on his face, “Do you have a bomb underneath that towel?” I was shocked and speechless. I had finally gotten used to others’ attention, and there he was making it once again hard for me to ignore everyone. I was tired of it all and just burst. I looked directly in his eyes and said, “You think that’s funny? You really think I would carry a damn bomb underneath my hijab? By the way it’s called a hijab — not no damn towel, thank you very much.” I couldn’t stop talking. Mad words were spilling so quick I didn’t even know I was still talking. I kept going. “You are one ignorant piece of shit,” I said. “It’s so funny how all of you stare and just think, ‘TERRORIST.’ Not one of you cared to ask why I wear a hijab. Instead, you look and judge me with your eyes. It’s okay, because I am still here and I am proudly wearing something that represents who I am. Wearing a hijab shows that I am not scared to be who I am! Next time you want to talk shit, think before you look like an idiot!” Everyone just stopped doing their work and just stared. I was shocked myself. It was so hard to breathe, and I could hear my heart beating so hard I thought the whole class could hear it. I thought to myself, “Oh lord, what did I get myself into.” I thought I could be slick and go back to doing my work as if nothing had happened. Sadly that wasn’t the case. My math teacher told both of us to step outside of class. We talked about it, and he apologized for what he said.
That was one day in my life where I stood up in madness. Keep in mind I was 10 or 11 years old and did not know if my classmates would accept me for who I am, let alone the rest of the world. I cared too much about what people, the news, social media, friends, classmates, and the world thought about the hijab. Yet, today, I am here wearing the hijab. You ask why? “Why” should not be the question. That shipped sailed five years ago when no one cared to ask me “why” when I started I wearing it. The question should be, “What does it represent to me?” The hijab represents my commitment to worship God and to the modesty that plays a huge role in my life. It represents how my beauty is not for everyone to see but only for the one I marry. It also means that beauty should not be the focus of a woman’s worth but her beliefs, her personality, her intelligence, her thinking, her voice, and much more.
As a 15-year-old Muslim, I have taught myself to love who I am and my religion. When people come up to me and ask why I wear a hijab, I simply tell them that I don’t answer that question. Instead, I tell them what the hijab represents to me. I am proud to call myself a hijabi.
I am resisting stereotypes that imply I am a terrorist. I am showing solidarity to my Muslim and non-Muslim community that we should not be afraid to wear something we believe in. I am showing love to myself and to those who believe in the same thing even when their stares bring us down. We need to rise up and let people know that we love to wear what we wear! We are not being forced! We are not committing a crime! No, we are not hurting ourselves but embracing who we are!
As I have told you my story, I want you to tell me yours. You have shared an interest in hearing mine, and I will do the same for yours. Together we can bring solidarity to our community and let people know that resisting is not a crime but a change for our world.
Runner-up: Amma Prempeh
Amma Prempeh thanks her parents, the Spice Girls, PJ Harvey, Wilde, Didion, Tao Lin, and the pulp fiction genre for making her the writer and reflector she is today.
“I know three women”
Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2015-
I am not your valedictorian. This is not Kanye’s best album.
Graduation, if you’re wondering.
This is a sister, daughter, girlfriend, best friend
talking, and if you wish to listen, do. No need to take notes.
You will not be tested.
Not anymore than you are
in school, the office, the street, the grocery store,
the airport, the library, at that concert, at the bar.
Not anymore than you are on account of
your skin, your eyes, your accent, your skirt length, your choice to wear jeans,
your heel height, your haircut, or what you have in between
your legs and behind your pelvic bone.
So life is already a test.
And since I’m a girl who checks her GPA twice a day,
can someone please tell me,
Who has the highest life point average?
Who is making the right multiple-choices in the daily challenge,
or at the very least,
Let’s consider three women.
There is Resistance, my cousin.
Resistance cusses like a sixteenth century sailor.
Resistance does not fret.
Resistance wears Band-Aids on her heels,
she has welts from walking: against racial profiling, for freedom to marry, in the memory of
those taken by police brutality.
Resistance drinks lots of tea with honey as
her voice is often sore from chanting: against apartheid, for campus safety, and in the
memory of those taken by fear.
Resistance does not fish to be called “beautiful.”
But sometimes Resistance gets angry when she is.
Now me and Resistance have been challenged enough-
I feel her objection to objectification, discrimination, classification.
But at times my kin, Resistance, my sister in arms, should listen.
Things are always in transition,
and when every second is spent tearing down an institution,
you can’t hear the gentler chimes of change
over the crashing and smashing of the ivory tower.
There is Solidarity, my auntie.
Solidarity will never cast stones.
Solidarity Skypes her niece twice a week.
Solidarity has been sailing since the age of five
first on Lake Bosumtwi in southern Ghana jostling for space amongst gruff fisherman, and
now on Lake Michigan, cruising alongside university rowing teams.
Solidarity bought her daughters bad-ass uniforms when they started at
Miss Saint Sister Sacred Nightingale Heart of the Fairchild Virgin Academy because she
knew they were going to the darkest berries in a daisy field.
Solidarity asks, “Why can’t we be friends?”
But Aunt Solidarity denies the reasons we can’t be friends.
Now I do believe Solidarity’s hugs are the cure to all the world’s ills,
that she could wrap nations, factions, militias in her arms and they’d get it.
But at times my auntie, Solidarity, my friend, should sit.
She wants to but can’t stand with everybody,
Without dancing, dodging, stepping on personal morals, dearest values.
Because solidarity can ignite revolution,
or it can make like the word and get stuck- solid- never shifting.
There is Love, my girlfriend.
Love was born in the same hospital in Burma as Aung San Suu Kyi.
Love will not graduate high school.
Love always asks for help clasping her necklace
though she can do it by herself it’s her love for these little things, like my skin meeting her
skin so briefly,
that define her.
Love wants to raise kids with me,
is ashamed to be ashamed of being ashamed when disgusting people tell her that her want
“is disgusting, a shame.”
Love is uncomfortable when couples bicker in public.
But Love fears letting go of anything even half-good.
Now I do not know who, what, where, when, who
or how I could be without.
But at times Love, my lover, should shout.
Her care should not be unconditional,
there’s things in this world and, honestly, they may include me,
that don’t deserve her affection
as addicted as she is to giving it.
Now I am not above my cousin, my aunt, my girlfriend.
I need those three women: Resistance, Solidarity, and Love.
Time is passing.
There is No Better Time Than Now
to look toward my inter-national family-
Cousin Resistance raising hell in central London,
Aunt Solidarity growing a family in Illinois,
my Love back in Burma come summer-
and to realize this is not a test.
This is not a question of GPA,
not of best life grade,
and best life choices.
I am blessed to love women who span the globe,
and whose personalities and centric passions
span the realm of values we need
to make real progress.
We need to resist the state and social constraints
that hurt, in the guise of help, us.
You, me, and my cousin, Lizzie Freeborn,
can do so.
We need solidarity, arms linked against the tear gas and hoses,
as much as we need to acknowledge differences and limitations.
You, me, and my aunt, Patience Agyeman,
can do so.
We need to love justice, action, and ourselves,
mobilize change with energy from that natural and unlimited resource.
You, me, and my girlfriend, Maxine Khun,
can do so.
Has there ever been more need? Tell me no.
Has there ever been a better time? Tell me no.
Can I teach you, and you teach me?
Can we learn from these three women,
and another 3.83 (GPA) billion women in this world?
Tell me yes.