Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Why #IStandwithAhmed is so Important

The story has now gone viral of a young man, a tinkerer, a maker, an inventor - being arrested at school. The story can be found far and wide, but the short version is 14 year old Ahmed Mohamed built a clock at home in his spare time. He was proud of his invention and took it to school to show one of his teachers. The clock was in his backpack in English class and started to beep. The English teacher asked what it was and when Ahmed pulled it out, the teacher assumed it was a bomb. Ahmed was sent to the principal's office, the police were called, and Ahmed was led out in handcuffs and taken to a detention center. You can read more of the story here:

Why such a big response to a kid inventor? It is pretty clear from the report that the response from the school and the police department were the direct result of Ahmed being a Muslim student. In the mind of his English teacher, the principal, the arresting officers, and even the police chief - it was reasonable to assume that Ahmed would make a bomb, but not a clock.

This assumption of ill intention, criminality, of having people really and truly believe the worst in you is a common thing faced by many Black/Brown children and teenagers. While there is no official claim by his family that Ahmed is gifted, he has a hobby that is common to many gifted children, including my own, being a builder, a maker, a tinkerer, and an inventor.

When I first heard the story, my heart sank. I was immediately transported back to the time when I was standing in a room at the daycare center, being told that my eldest, who was 9 month old at the time, was showing signs of violence and aggression. I was shocked and horrified; not my loving little guy! As I prodded to see exactly what behavior the teacher was referring to I was told that he was throwing balls at children and adults. I asked them to demonstrate and they tossed the ball the same way I had seen my son do many times. I asked them a simple question, "Did you ever catch the ball and throw it back?" No, they hadn't. My son had been playing catch with his father for a few weeks, he just wanted to play catch with his daycare teacher and peers. Instead of assuming my little 9 month old baby was smart enough, bright enough, to know how to play catch, they assumed he was a thug in a diaper and was trying to use the little foam ball as a weapon against his teachers and his other classmates. They never saw a gifted child, just a criminal in the making. I was able to advocate for my son and he got his first "grade skip" out of the baby room and into the toddler room with his "peers" who were all playing catch, even though they were all twice his age. It was the first of many grade skips, then I was tired of advocating and fighting against negative stereotypes and we finally brought all three children home.

Seeing Ahmed in handcuffs, I saw my worst fear in front of me. I saw in his expression of fear and confusion the face of my own three makers. I saw the very reason why we had to pull them out of the traditional school system and bring them home to a safe environment. An environment where they can make contraptions and no one assume they are making weapons. Home - where they can explore chemistry and no one assume they are trying to play Jr. terrorist. A place where they can invent and tinker and no one view their innocent hobbies with distrust, or assume their intentions are anything but pure creativity to be applauded and encouraged. But, most Black and Brown makers, inventors, and tinkerers aren't home. Most are not in a safe environment where their passion for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math is encouraged and allowed to thrive and grow. It is for Ahmed and the many children and teens like him that we must show solidarity - across racial and religious lines. This isn't about standing with one young Muslim child that was judged not on the basis of his brilliance, but of negative stereotypes of his religion, but for standing with the thousands of children just like him being viewed with suspicion and distrust, having their innocent passions crushed in a school-to-prison pipeline that can't seem to be plugged with enough force to make it stop for good. Ahmed has gotten support from across the world, including the President of the United States. I am overwhelmed with joy, but there are more like him that we still need to support and encourage.

When I saw Ahmed in a video talking about his clock, I couldn't help but think of Benjamin Banneker and his wooden clock he made with his own hands. It has been a long time since a clock maker changed the way the world viewed him and those of his faith and/or ethnicity. Ahmed, we stand with you today and we look forward to seeing all of your great inventions in the future! Keep making my friend!


  1. I agree this was very upsetting to me as well. My son commented they must has never worked with microcomputers before if they thought that was a lot of wires. I was wondering who had the right to disclose his name and pictures being that he was a minor.

    1. Definitely agree. It was reported that his sisters were tweeting some information to keep people up-to-date on what was going on. In this instance I think reporting his information worked in his favor, because I absolutely believe he would have been charged with a crime if the media attention wasn't so heavy. The fact that he was interrogated without a parent and without legal counsel is very troubling, especially since they were looking to charge him with a very serious felony crime.
      I just wonder how many other children have had this experience without the media attention and now have felony records that would prohibit them from getting into college, receiving scholarships, and never being able to find employment in their field of choice.
      He was wearing a NASA shirt and what is ironic is that if he had been charged with the crime they were trying to charge him with, he would have never, ever been able to pass the background check for federal employment.
      Sad all the way around.