"As the school year wound down, I began to both anticipate and dread the summer break. No longer could I look forward to a whole 2 months of everything but education. The shadows of college applications and the need to “fight the norms” in order to impress loomed over me. Summer became an unspoken competition to do something that others weren’t. Thought I tried to stay optimistic, the rejections and ignored applications to internships across the city had me feeling like last place in the race to succeed. Then, lo and behold, a Facebook post by a good friend of mine coaxing me and others to join “Mentee Muslima”, a women’s empowerment and self-defense program by WISE - Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment. It was like a gift from the Heavens and I jumped to fill out the application and hit send, waiting anxiously for a reply. At the start of July I got my acceptance email and that was when my summer began.
Every Wednesday I picked out my best outfit of the week and headed out to Jamaica Muslim Center. Seeing the familiar and beloved faces of my fellow mentees made me feel an uncanny sense of security. Somehow the girls around me were all completely unique and yet could finish my sentences for me purely because we were thinking on the same wavelength. To be matched to a group of people who shine in their own way and encouraged me to never dim in energy or passion, I felt like I had won the lottery.
I’ve shared my heart and soul with each one of these bright young women and they found me worthy of hearing their stories as well. Bonds were made as we went week after week learning how societal standards of beauty should not dictate our lives and how our intelligence and faith are our biggest assets as individuals.
Together we learned to raise our voices if needed to show a predator that we are not afraid. We memorized combo after combo of punches and kicks to disorient an attacker, even one pointing a gun at our heads. We grew up in the 8 weeks we spent together. We matured emotionally and built a foundation of confidence in and an understanding of our talents and power.
Mentee Muslima was an experience that really solidified my determination to make my mark on this world while I’m still on it, and I’m sure I’ll have my Mentee Muslima girls by my side all the way to the finish line. "