Amera Hassan is a rising medical student at the University of Minnesota who is passionate about bridging health disparities within her community. Her high school involvement in Multiplying Good ’s Students In Action program has given her helpful tools and the inspiration to make service her life goal and passion.
The information below represents the views and opinions of the interviewee, Amera Hassan.
How did you come to be involved in community service and social justice work?
My exposure to service work started in middle school through the FACS (Family and Consumer Sciences) class. We would stay after school to sew blankets and mittens for the homeless community to support folks during the cold Minnesotan winter. It didn’t require too much skill, and anyone could do it if they gave up some time.
When I started High School, I got exposed to Students in Action through Multiplying Good, and that’s where I started getting involved in a more strategic way. A few of my friends and I led the group, and together we planned school-wide events and fundraisers, had a mission statement, and yearly and trimester - long goals that we worked to meet.
What was your path from community service to activism and social justice work?
I grew up in Blaine, MN. It is a predominantly white area, and I went to a mostly white high school. Most of the service work I did in high school was localized in the suburbs nearby.
College was a massive shift for me. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by people of color, particularly peers from the Somali-American community, as well as from my own Egyptian-American community.
I am a practicing Muslim. There is racism within the Muslim Arab community, particularly in Minnesota, against Somalis. One day I went to a race talk and the tension was high, there was a lot of anger and frustration, and I told the Somali group that I thought they were racist against white people and people like me. My sister pulled me aside and told me that while black people can be prejudice, they can’t be racist.
This didn’t make any sense to me, so I started asking questions, and I got into a lot of fights. I’m lucky that there were people who took the energy to educate me. Looking back, I don’t think it was fair to put that on my friends of color — the burden of teaching me — but I'm lucky to have friends who were willing to help. Th ough wrought with mistakes, this journey led me to become involved in activism to support communities of color. My beginnings with SIA made me realize that activism is something essential and that I want ed to do it for the rest of my life.
What’s the best way to educate youth about racism?
The most heartfelt way for youth to learn about racism is from their peers — the way I did. But it's also vital that people who want to learn need to ask first if their friends of color are in the right space. It's not fair that in addition to suffering marginalization, people of color are also burdened with teaching, so it's crucial to begin a conversation with a question about whether they are willing or able to engage. If the answer is no, accept it and move on. If yes, be aware of the emotional burden it may take on the person educating you.
As a young person active in the conversations about George Floyd in MN, what are you thinking and feeling?
My experience is different than some other young people. When this first happened, I, of course, stood against the death of George Floyd and fought for all four cops to be arrested and charged, and I still do. I was also angry with the store owners who called the police without realizing the death sentence it would be for a black man. But then I learned that the store owners were Muslim and Arab-Americans and were people I knew. Cops had antagonized them for over 30 years, setting them up and threatening to have their license revoked for accepting fraudulent bills. It was their fear of getting in trouble that drove them to call in the first place. So, I understand it, a bit, why they called. But some of my peers that I see on social media have no sympathy for the store owner 's context, and I understand that too. Losing a life is a tragedy that nothing can justify.
The reality is that we can't expect people who are already angry to be anything other than mad because they have the right to feel their anger while we, non-black POC and white people, have the privilege to choose to be angry or not. Even though I am a brown, Muslim woman with many prejudices working against me, young people like me need to acknowledge our privilege and experiences of black people and amplify their voices.
What are you and your peers doing to support the movement?
People are doing a lot of different things based on what they can. I feel a little guilty because while I want to go to the protests, my parents are both at high-risk for COVID-19, and since I'm living at home right now, I need to be careful of keeping them safe.
So, people are protesting, doing supply runs, educating others via social media, and spreading information to help organize protests. We are also working to make sure that the protest isn't affecting communities already having a hard time meeting their basic needs, so we are helping organize donations. We want to make sure the anger can continue without hurting people. But these activists are strategic, and they’ve got their community’s back.
What are you and your peers feeling right now?
We are angry, hurt, and exhausted. There’s a lot of cancel culture going around, which means people are no longer putting their energy in harmful friendships. While I know there's a negative stigma associated with that; people are fed up with friends who aren't doing enough. People are tightening their social circles because we can't spend any time fighting people who don't care or who aren't showing up.
As you do this work, what can adults do to help and support you and other young people? What shouldn’t they do?