• The Time I Was An Upstander, Not a Bystander

    Michael (3rd from right),a student at Wellington C. Mepham High School recieved Honorable Mention for the Friedlander Upstander Award at HMTC’s 2018 Tolerance Benefit.  His essay bellow demonstrates that he has acted as an Upstander against bullying and intolerance.

    Freshman year of high school was definitely my caterpillar to butterfly phase.  I grew so much by developing connections with life long friends and learning about their culture.  My best friend was a beautiful and kindhearted Muslim girl named Rina.  We got placed next to each other in earth science and it was the best.  Rina stood out in the crowd because she wears a hijab, a head covering scarf worn in public by some Muslim women.  She decided to start wearing the hijab freshman year so it was pretty new to her.  Unfortunately, she told me that the day she put on the hijab was the day people started discriminating against her, calling her a terrorist or part of ISIS, and in one case was attacked by a woman who tried to pull it off her head.  Those stories shocked me to my core and I always hoped that nothing like that would ever happen again.  A few months later, a bright sunny April day, was the day I became an Upstander.  As Rina and I worked on our lab, a boy decided to ask Rina questions.  One question many people as Rina is, “Do you hear that in the shower?” laughing, Rina said ‘Nope!” But the boy proceded to continually ask Rina hurtful and racist questions while also making Muslim jokes.  He said “Are you an ISIS bride?”, “You’re probably going to bomb the school”, “Why the hell would you ever cover up your hair?”.  Worse things came out of his mouth and both Rina and I were upset, shocked, and disgusted at what this boy was saying.  Rina was visibly upset, not saying anything, head turned and shaking.  My heart was beating so quickly because I couldn’t believe I was witnessing this kind of behavior.  Without even thinking I turned around sharply, asked politely for him to please stop.  That didn’t work.  Again I said with a little more force “PLEASE stop”.  He said he was not doing anything wrong but I explained to him that he was being racist towards someone just because of their religion and how they display it.  Her hijab, a symbol of pride towards her religion, is no different than wearing a cross around your neck or a yarmulke.  I asked this stunned boy “How would it feel if someone started shouting racist comments to you? About how you’re Italian and how you wear that big cross around your neck?”  Instead of fighting fire with fire, Rina and I both decided to teach this boy the meaning of equality and difference of religion, to not judge a person based on what they look like or what they practice, but how big their heart is.  Even though Rina was my best friend and best friends stand up for each other, I stood up for everyone.  Every color and religion.  This moment forever gave me the strength and power to furthermore be an Upstander in my every day life.

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