When Doha Ibrahim was in eighth grade, a classmate ripped off her hijab. It was an act of bullying that was—at first—scary to Ibrahim, who, with her Iraqi-born parents, had just immigrated to the U.S. from Canada.
But Ibrahim was lucky: She found support from her family and friends, and didn’t let the incident deter her from attending school, or practicing Islam. “I decided to use my story to help others,” she says.
That moment was a catalyst; it made her want to be a leader, someone who wouldn’t shrink away from intimidation and would stand up for those in need of support.
Now, Ibrahim, a senior at Abraham Lincoln High School, is doing just that as one of two student School Board representatives, along with Imere Williams of Boys’ Latin High School.
Ibrahim applied for the role with the goal of being a voice for unheard students in the Philly school system. The process involved writing essays, submitting letters of recommendation, doing interviews and ultimately meeting with Superintendent Hite.
Ibrahim is determined to represent all students in the district and has visited as many schools as possible to talk to her constituents. She is tasked with representing and finding out what issues are important to them—like, for instance, making sure students who speak English as a second language have enough support. She also relies on social media to connect with students, inviting them to contact her on Twitter and Instagram to share their concerns.
Ibrahim says she is grateful and inspired by people both near and far. She credits her principal, Jack Nelson, with pushing her to find her strengths and help others, and for taking Lincoln beyond the negative headlines, to become a place where good things are happening.
“Last year, we had so many shootings and lockdowns and that’s what people saw. But our school is really great and we have so many opportunities here,” she says. “A lot of students don’t have the support at home or resources to travel outside of the city. Bringing colleges to students is most important.”
She credits students at Lincoln and her friends for encouraging her to apply for this position. “Any time they have a problem [at school], I want to try and solve that. They see me staying up late at night, they see me planning these events. They believe in me, and what is better than having support from family and friends?”
Beyond Philadelphia, Ibrahim says she has been inspired by the life of Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. “I’ve been through trauma myself,” she says “I am very noticeably Muslim, and have been through that experience. The majority of the work I do is trying to inspire students, and Malala personally inspired me just by keeping on going with her education.”
Ibrahim connects with students at her Northeast Philly high school because of her own vulnerable experiences. Just the other day, a student from Syria approached her, wanting to talk to someone who could understand her and relate. Students know that Ibrahim will understand.
“I’ve always had this goal of being a voice for others. I want to be the voice of the unheard in America and internationally,” she says. “Everyone has a voice, but certain people don’t know how to use it, so I want to do it for them.”
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