If you ask Sara, her story hasn’t started yet.
Sara Ali, 15, is a freshman at Ravenwood High School in Brentwood.
Born in Canada, Sara grew up in an Arab household. When she was six, her family moved to the United States, first to Atlanta then to the Nashville area in 2010.
“Growing up, the news was always on and we always heard about things happening around the world,” she said. “I remember when the Libyan Revolution happened and how my family was always watching it on TV. I felt connected to my cultural identity.”
Sara is Libyan and said when she’s older she wants to be a human rights lawyer and a journalist. She said seeing what’s going on in the Middle East with her culture and other cultures inspired her to want to be involved.
“As a human rights lawyer you’re doing work that benefits people directly like getting them food and water and giving them the rights they physically deserve,” she said. “When it comes to journalism, it’s about reclaiming the narrative that’s currently being told through the media.”
Sara said a lot of times people of her culture and people of the Middle East are not accurately represented.
In middle school, Sara said she was ashamed whenever class discussions were brought up on Arabs or Islam. She said she felt silenced or restricted.
“Since then I’ve taken larger steps in finding myself because I feel like that’s important. Before I can help fix the narrative, I have to be proud of who I am and my identity.”
Sara said there isn’t much diversity in her high school and said sometimes the hardest thing is being different. She said the best things and the most satisfying things, though, are what happens because of those hardships of being different.
“I like to write poetry, and so I write out my feelings through poems and now I know what I want to do with my life as a result of having been through those struggles,” she said.
About two years ago, Sara stumbled upon a video of a performance on Facebook. At the time she didn’t know what it was so she started looking up more videos and discovered it was spoken word.
“I love listening,” she said. “I love poetry. I love music, and when I listen to spoken word I feel something. I feel that I understand poems without even having to look at who’s speaking.”
Sara started writing her own poems and has even performed at a few Southern Word open mic nights around Nashville. In the last two years, she received third place in MIST or Muslim Interscholastic Tournament’s locally organized competition.
HIGH SCHOOL and HER HIJAB
Sara said high school is interesting. From a social standpoint, she said it’s a lot of fun, but it can be a lot of work at times.
Involved in what she calls the nerd sports, Sara is active in speech and debate, Model U.N., Youth in Government, and newspaper and yearkbook.
Two and a half years ago, she said she made the decision to start wearing her hijab.
“I feel like after I had made the decision, I realized why,” she said. “Me wearing a hijab now means I have a responsibility to be an ambassador for my religion and my culture. It’s a big part of my identity, and it’s something that’s very clear because I’m literally walking with my religion around my head.”
By wearing a hijab, Sara wanted to show people that she was just an average teenage girl who likes the same music and reads the same books.
She said the additional weight of representing her religion as well as the usual trials of being a teenager is difficult at times.
“I was scared about wearing my hijab at school,” she said. “At first, there were looks and stares because it was inevitable, but after people got passed that they realized there’s a story to be told. It’s hard being different. As a teenage girl, the last thing you want to feel is different, but I have to be who I am.”
Now, it reminds of her who she is and what she lives for every day.
“I don’t want Muslim kids, or people who are different in general, to feel like they have to defend themselves when they’re little. I don’t want them to have to have that burden. So I think fixing the stereotypes that are thrown out there is important. Some kids have to grow up defending themselves and some kids stay silent. Any opportunity to give people bravery and a voice to overcome that is a meaningful thing.”
For Sara, being a part of a community is important because it’s an opportunity to apply her talents, skills, and passions the best she can.
“A community is like a family of strangers. It’s people who are doing things for you every single day. You may not even realize it, but you’re a part of a family.”
Sara lives in Brentwood but said Nashville and its surrounding communities are getting better and better.
“We have a new mayor, and she is awesome. I’m pretty excited to see what happens in the future,” she said. “The change is for the better. We are going to have to make some sacrifices along the way, but the city is becoming a lot bigger and I think that’s good.”
Sara said her future matters most to her right now.
“Maybe I make it too much of a big deal,” she said. “I know I should live in the present for my future, but right now I’m worried about my future. I should do things now that will help me in the future.”
She said she doesn’t have any school in mind yet, and right now she’s focusing on getting through high school.
Sara and her family used to go back to Libya once a year but hasn’t been able to since the recent civil war.
“The community in Libya differs because it’s less ethnically diverse as the community in Nashville; however, they both share the same sort of unity that you feel while visiting either place,” she said.
Sara currently works at Kumon Math and Reading Center of Nolensville where she helps children four years old and older with reading and math.
“It’s so rewarding seeing my students grow and improve,” she said. “I feel like an educators job is super important in helping harvest the future generation. I can’t wait to see these kids’ impact on our community in the future.”
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