Hebh Jamal is an activist who, in February, organized a New York City-wide student walk-out in protest of President Donald Trump’s attempted travel ban. For two years prior to the walk-out, she’s become a leader in the fight against Islamophobia, speaking at high schools, rallies, and organizing protests. Hebh’s work has been covered by the likes of Vice, Teen Vogue, Seventeen, and Chalkbeat. She’s also a student.
Hebh was a nominee for the 2017 RFK Urban Education Student award to whom we are giving special recognition becausewe knew she had an interesting story to tell about student commitment to social justice. She told us about a 10th grade global history teacher who impacted her, a teacher who “essentially taught us the importance of empathy through the Enlightenment. He asked “what does it mean to be a human?” She explains that, from there, the class moving forward was about the different struggles of people, underscoring the idea that no one was better than the other. That mindset has certainly manifested itself in her work, about which Hebh tells us: “Education equity means everything to me. I won’t stop until all NYC public schools are benefiting every NYC student. I won’t stop till NYC schools aren’t segregated anymore.”
Thinking back over what she’s learned in school, Hebh mentions that the main thing she’ll take away from her high school experience is “my ability to question authority and providing me a classroom that welcomed it.” Making young people aware of the political and social issues that shape their world is part of what education means in the 21st century, and Hebh encourages students to get involved early, and start thinking idealistically. “A lot of the times we go into conversations and debates /disputes and only talk about what’s impossible. We focus on technicalities and data and forget why we’re doing this work to begin with,” Hebh explained.
Sometimes, students are left out of conversation about topics that affect them, whether it is issues related to school or social justice. Education moving forward demands that students play an active role in shaping their education and future society, something Hebh is doing in spades. We’re inspired by her work, vision for the future, and stellar advice she would pass on to other young people: “I advise students to read as much as they can and think to themselves what makes a world that I can be proud of?”