High School Muslimah Making a Difference

Kaity Assaf is a determined 17-year-old student who made a formal proposal to the New Jersey Board of Education to adopt Muslim Holidays (Eid-Ul-Fitr and Eid-Ul-Adha) as school holidays. That means time off. And she had hundreds of signatures from the public to support her in addition to encouragement from her mother, peers and teachers. Having grown up in Paterson, NJ, myself, I also discovered that that was not the only thing we had in common. During my interview with Kaity, I saw so much of myself in her as a high school student with big dreams, already put into action with passion, tenaciousness and a great support system. Let´s meet this inspiring teen:

R.What encouraged you to present to the Board of Education, the idea of proclaiming the two Muslim holidays (Eid-Ul-Fitr and Eid-Ul-Adha) as school holidays?

K.When Eid came this year, my teacher mentioned that we had homework and a quiz on Eid and I felt that it was unfair. Also, some teachers and students were clueless regarding the issue. So I went home and discussed this issue with my mom. I told her that I felt sad that we don’t have the right as American Muslims to declare Eid off. My school does consider giving us an ” excused absence” if we did not come to school on Eid however, it isn’t enough,” I told my mom, ” How would others feel if they had to come to school on Christmas or teachers having to attend work that day?” So the next day while I was in my computer literacy class, I was discussing the issue with my friend and she said,” Why don’t you make and print petitions?” I loved the idea and I did, which is how it all started.

R.How did it feel when you went in to present the idea to the Board? Were you nervous?

K.I was completely nervous. I stayed in my school library that day printing out copies of petitions and reciting what I wrote. I stayed in the library from 2:00 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. Then, I went to the BOE (Board of Education). When I arrived there and sat down, I felt my face getting red and I couldn’t stay still. When it was my turn to go up, I blanked out. However, I calmed myself down and started my speech after I handed out the copies of the petition for each Board member. I stuttered at the beginning, but then, I regained my confidence especially when I looked at Mom,  saw satisfaction in the faces of the Board members and I reminded myself that I am here for an important cause.

R.If the board does not approve, what do you plan on doing next?

K.I will keep on attending the meetings and bring up this issue to the BOE and provide more evidence on why Eid is important and should be declared a public holiday in Clifton, NJ.

R.You told The Herald News, “I’m looking into being a lawyer and maybe a future judge some day.” Why law?

K.Law specifically because it all began when I was enrolled in a law program at Eastside High School in Paterson, NJ. I was to write an opening statement on the case that was assigned. Lawyers came to us twice per week and trained us as if we were real lawyers. Towards the end of the year, I went to the court in Newark and presented my part. After the trial was over, the judge told me, “That was a mark of a real lawyer.” He really inspired me. He even came up to me while I was eating lunch at the court and insisted that I would be an amazing lawyer so I know deep down that I will be successful in that field. Take a look at the article: http://www.northjersey.com/news/paterson-students-shine-in-mock-trial-program-1.1017847

R.Are your parents or guardians encouraging?

K.My mom is my role model. She’s my everything. She always stands by my side with every project I am involved in. If it weren’t for her in my life, my life would be colorless.

R.What do you like to do for fun during your free time?

K.Books, books, books! I love to read books. When I read a new book, its like a new adventure in Wonderland! I am also obsessed with following the news daily, especially politics.

R.What is your favorite subject in school?

K.My favorite subject in school in English, especially the class that I am currently taking, AP English. It gives me a deeper understanding of this amazing subject. What I enjoy about writing is expressing myself and that’s why I chose English as my favorite subject.

R.Are you involved in any extracurricular activities in school?

K.I am Editor of my school newspaper. Every Saturday, I go to Montclair State University because I am enrolled in the Upward Bound Program which runs classes and workshops that help us with the classes that we take in school and knowledge and experience that will be beneficial in college and future.

R.How has the experience been for you after having presented the idea of adopting Muslim holidays as school days off? How is the school environment? How are your peers and teachers treating you? Is it any different than before?

K.The experience was very beneficial. As I have heard from my teachers multiple times, “The power of knowledge enriches the soul.” It made me feel proud of myself. My goal is to make a difference in the world! However, I am taking it one step at a time and that’s why I decided to start with my district. Atticus in To Kill a Mocking Bird is my role model. He was a lawyer as well and was the best around his town. He was assigned to a difficult case in which a Black young boy was accused of raping a white girl (based on the true story THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS). Atticus did his best to show the judge and convince the jury of the boy’s innocence and talked in a way they would understand because of the lack of knowledge back in 1930’s especially in the South. The story took place in Alabama, one of the most racist states in America. Even though Atticus didn’t win the case, he did prove a point to the jury and caused a difference. In the real story, the case didn’t win although from that day on, legal cases dealt with racism with the right to a fair trial.

Clifton High School is a diverse school. There are about 2600 students and it is the second largest school in New Jersey. There is no racism and everyone is friendly. Regarding my project, some were with me and some were against me. The majority is for making Eid a public school holiday.

My teachers and friends love me! They admire my determination and intelligence.

It’s Christmas break and the article was published the first day of Christmas. Nevertheless, from the reactions of my friends, they were extremely impressed. This isn’t my first achievement. For I have done a couple in Paterson, but not in Clifton. One of my accomplishments  is  going to the NJ State National History Day competition and my project is still displayed at Eastside High School. During junior year at Clifton High School, I went on career day with my school to a prison in Passaic County. I saw how  the prisoners lived and heard some of their stories. I even advised them that everyone makes mistakes in life and nobody is perfect, but we shouldn’t repeat our own mistakes and look into improving ourselves. A police officer told me, ” I don’t usually praise anyone, but you are going to be a successful person. Keep on doing what you are already doing.” That made my day! That visit made me more determined in becoming a lawyer to represent people who don’t have a voice and everyone deserves to have one! My friend said, “Kaity, you are already famous! May I have your autograph.” It brought joy into my heart. According to my teachers, every person that tries to make the world a better place is respected and appreciated. That’s normal.

According to The Herald News, “Superintendent Richard Tardalo said this week that he and the board members listened to Assaf and would take her request into consideration when crafting the 2016-2017 school calendar at the end of February.”

Rumki Chowdhury
Rumki Chowdhury

Published Author and Journalist. Born in Bangladesh, raised in USA, lived in UK and now in Sweden. Married and mother of two daughters, Alhumduililah.

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