September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document
Title:A better sense of self
Blurb:As a young girl I never questioned who I was and what I stood for. All I knew was that I was an African-American Muslim, and I was proud of that. I love and believe in my religion but, since September 11th, it has been difficult defending it every day to
Body:I dont know who Khalilah is. I do know my name means friend, but what exactly does that mean? There is Khalilah the friend, the student, the chef, the poet and the daughter, but theres still a part of me I am searching to figure out. Now after September 11th, people are questioning the part of me I thought I knew, and Im finding it extremely hard to figure out who I am.
When I was thirteen, I realized that being an African-American Muslim teenager in New York isnt easy. I have to deal with silly stereotypes about Black Muslim people, like we all eat bean pies and the men all wear bow ties. At the same time, I had to deal with stereotypes about African-Americans, such as the assumption that we are ignorant, lazy and untrustworthy.
Growing up, I always knew I was different from other children. I couldnt wear shorts or short sleeved shirts. I had to cover my hair and I couldnt eat pork. None of those things bothered me because I was always around people who knew what being Muslim was about. As a young girl I never questioned who I was and what I stood for. All I knew was that I was an African-American Muslim, and I was proud of that.
After the tragedy at the World Trade Center, many Muslims were persecuted because of their religion. People who do not understand it even called Islam the religion of the devil and said that all Muslims should be destroyed. I love and believe in my religion but it has been difficult defending it every day to people who really dont care and who have already formed their own opinions.
From the ripe age of nine until I was sixteen, I attended the Al-Iman school, a Muslim school located in Jamaica, Queens. Though other Muslims surrounded me, I was the only African-American Muslim student in the entire high school until I reached the 11th grade. Even though I had another African-American student with me at that point, I still felt alone. I was with children and young adults from Bangladesh and Pakistan who shared similar cultures, food and clothes. The girls sat in class and talked about different Indian actors and I felt lost, not knowing how to connect to them. I was closed in by traditions that werent mine, and I was unable to express myself verbally.
Trying to find that place where I could express myself, I joined TRUCE (a nonprofit organization in Harlem serving youth around the city). At TRUCE, I am able to express myself through writing, video and art. I participated in a group called Bright Lights, which was made up of teenagers from all around the metropolitan area and from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. With the help of TRUCE supervisors, we made a documentary film that went on to win six awards. One of the main points expressed in the documentary concerned the different roles religion plays in our lives and how teenagers define religion and spirituality as their safe havens. Answering these questions was difficult because I never asked them of myself until I joined TRUCE and began making documentary films.
I felt that if I was asking teenagers these same questions I should be able to answer them myself, but I was wrong. I believe questions such as these take years, sometimes a lifetime, to figure out. Now I am going into my senior year with a better sense of who I am, an intelligent, eloquent, beautiful African-American young Muslim girl.
i>Harlem Overheard is a youth-produced newspaper run by TRUCE (The RheedlenUniversity for Community Education)./i>