At 16 years old, Alisha Aslam already has years of experience pushing for positive change in the world around her.
So after a man in London, Ont., drove his pickup into a Muslim family last month in what police have called a premeditated and targeted attack, killing four of them and orphaning a young boy, she quickly created a resource to educate other students about Islamophobia and to encourage them to raise the voices against it.
“Don't feel afraid to get involved,” she said. “Youth are the make-or-break of society. We can transfer knowledge and teachings to the next generation, or we can break it, break stereotypes.”
Aslam, who is going into Grade 11 at Agincourt Collegiate Institute in Scarborough this September, said Islamophobia seems to be increasing, noting in particular policies such as Quebec’s ban on public sector workers wearing hijabs, and said she and her friends have seen a lot of discrimination firsthand.
“It's a really critical age, so make sure to watch your actions and call it out when you see it because a lot of times, we unintentionally pass it on when we don't call something out, and we allow it to happen,” she said.
In the last five years, more Muslims have been killed in targeted attacks in Canada than any other G7 country, the National Council of Canadian Muslims noted earlier this week as the advocacy group unveiled 61 policy recommendations ahead of a virtual summit this Thursday created in the wake of the London attack.
Aslam got engaged early, serving as a page at the provincial legislature before joining the Toronto District School Board’s Student Senate (the board’s main advocacy group for students) in Grade 8, and has since joined a string of initiatives to create a better world.
These include working to get more marginalized youth interested in STEM subjects, joining efforts to fight climate change, and representing the riding of Scarborough-Agincourt on the Ontario Provincial Youth Cabinet, with a focus on youth employment and francophone affairs.
Last year, she interned with Policy for the People, an initiative run by students at Harvard University, and helped secure sponsors and judges for its first “policython,” a global event where teams of students spent a weekend creating and refining policy proposals.
“It was people from a lot of different countries, so they had a lot of different views and a lot of different perspectives, which is really interesting to see,” she said.
She said she trusts her ability to handle the workload, which she said was mostly a matter of time management, and is already looking into various programs available for university students to get involved in.
“I found a healthy way to always want to be better, but not in a way that undermines my mental health,” said Aslam, who is interested in engineering, but currently wants to pursue studies in law, politics and international relations.
Morgan Sharp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer