Khalil Hassam, a senior at University Prep in Seattle who has worked to build tolerance and respect for diversity at his school, has been awarded a 2006 American Civil Liberties Union Youth Activist scholarship. He is one of nine students across the nation to receive this honor.
Hassam will receive a $4,000 grant for college from the ACLU program, which rewards high school seniors for work that furthers civil liberties or civil rights in their schools and communities. Hassam was selected for challenging prejudice and discrimination against gay and lesbian students.
“Khalil Hassam showed courage in speaking up to confront intolerance. He represents a new generation of students who are working to promote civil liberties,” said Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington.
Hassam is the only Muslim at his school. He was moved to action after a speech at school by a representative of a Muslim group who made degrading comments about homosexuals. After trying to challenge the speaker, he realized there was a need to educate and organize students to counter prejudice and discriminatory stereotypes.
“I wanted to spread awareness and fight injustices that I see,” Hassam said. “Everyone deserves an equal opportunity, no matter their race, creed or sexual orientation.”
He joined the Gay-Straight Alliance at school that same day, and went on to form the Coalition Against Apathy, a group that encourages students to exercise their freedom of expression and assembly. He is on the executive board of Harassment Prevention Education Coalition, speaking before student assemblies and assisting students who have been harassed. Additionally, through the Multicultural Student Alliance, Khalil used his experience as an Indian Muslim to educate others about Islam and the importance of religious freedom and diversity.
“I am a Muslim, and I believe in social and civil rights for all. When I transition to university next year, I know I can make an even stronger impact on this issue. I won’t be the only Muslim at my school, and together, we can be true ambassadors of Islam, representing the ideals of peace and unity with which Islam was created,” said Hassam.
Hassam hopes to attend either Villanova or George Washington universities next fall, and to study liberal arts, with a focus on pre-medicine.