Growing up in the United States, Salma Abdelrahman recalls episodes in which she felt like a victim of racial profiling and islamophobia.
In 2012, Salma entered her freshman year at Coral Reef Senior High School and immediately got involved in the Student Voices Organization, a group created by the Miami Coalition of Christians and Jews as a place where students can voice their experiences in regards to discrimination and prejudice.
“In middle school people would say, ‘Is Osama Bin Laden your dad? You’re such a terrorist, don’t talk to me,’” said Salma, whose family is from Egypt. “Those things stick with you. After a while it piles up.”
On Oct. 31, 2014, Salma, then 16, launched her own project, Fabula Rasa, a short-story series in which diverse people anonymously speak about their personal experiences regarding discrimination.
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The movies are posted on YouTube. Each one includes a whiteboard, where the narrator draws the episodes of their story with some markers. This was strategically done, in order to keep the students’ faces off camera and therefore their identities remain anonymous. Subjects such as immigration, homophobia, transphobia, LGBT rights, body shaming, and female empowerment are spoken about during the episodes of Fabula Rasa, each clip shining light on a different subject.
“It’s not gonna gain any momentum if I’m not the first person to put myself out there,” said Salma, who based the first episode on her experiences. “If I share my story, people are gonna see that this is a really cool way of sharing their story.”
She spoke of her nationality, her family, religion and beliefs, as well as her challenges of living in the United States as an immigrant.
John Locke’s theory of tabula rasa (blank slate) inspired Salma to use the title. The theory, according to Salma, is that everyone is a blank slate, and they’re influenced by their experiences.
“Something that I wanted to make a statement about in that name was [that] the stories that you hear and the stories that you share can influence that blank slate that you have just as much,” she said. “‘Fabula’ means stories in Latin, and ‘rasa’ [came] from John Locke.”
Salma’s engagement in her community, her school and her academic achievements, earned her an eight-week internship through the Bank of America Student Leaders Program.
During the summer, she interned for the Boys & Girls Club of Miami-Dade, where she spoke to and spent time with children of all ages, encouraging them to play sports, read books and stay active during the school break. Salma also received a fully financed trip to Washington, D.C., on behalf of the Bank of America Student Leaders Program, where she and four fellow interns met and spoke to some legislators and had discussions on what they thought were some primary issues that face the country.
“We know that we are investing in our community’s future and our future leaders [and] their understanding of the issues in our country and our community, as well as foster the passion to become a part of the solution and try to look for ways to mitigate those issues,” said Maria Alonso, 52, who has been part of the Bank of America student program since it began in 2006.
The program receives applications from about 100 high-performing juniors and seniors every year. Being engaged in community activities, in clubs and associations in school as well as good leadership skills and good report cards are among the things taken into account when selecting the five students.
“The quality of students that we see coming through the program year after year just keeps getting better and better,” Alonso said.