Thursday January 05, 2017
Teen poets Kiran Waqar, Balkisa Abdikadir, Hawa Adam, and Lena Ginawi ended 2016 with national recognition. The four young women, all juniors in high school, comprise the slam poetry group Muslim Girls Making Change (MGMC) and were honored by The Huffington Post as part of “17 Muslim American Women Who Made America Great in 2016.” Waqar and Ginawi attend South Burlington High School and Abdikadir and Adam are students at Burlington High School.
The Huffington Post article was posted in December by the website’s associate religion editor Antonia Blumberg. She said, “If there was ever a year that needed Muslim women to show the world just how great America already is, 2016 was it. Muslim Americans continue to face rising intolerance and Islamophobia… and hijab-wearing Muslim women often bore the brunt of this bigotry. But they didn’t remain silent. If anything, Muslim women lead the charge in advocating for the rights of minority groups…”
The MGMC poets were four of the 17 honored. Passionate about making change, thus the name of their group, the four have performed both locally and nationally, as well as competing in international events.
Waqar, one of the MGMC poets, said of the recognition, “All of us were so excited and honored when we found ourselves in the same list as many of our role models. These are women who have inspired us and have kept us going when we’ve felt discouraged. Without their trail blazing for Muslim women we might not be where we are today. We are infinitely grateful to Antonia Blumberg for including us.”
Fellow poet Ginawi spoke to the often negative misconceptions and labeling of others. She told the Associated Press, “Whenever you hear the word terrorism, I don’t want the first thing you think about is Islam, because Islam, to me, is a religion of peace.”
MGMC formed in 2016 with help from the Young Writers Project (YWP), a Vermont nonprofit dedicated to engaging students to write and publish their best work online, in newspapers and, on occasion, on radio, TV, and stage as well. In 2016, the poets were coached by Denise Casey and Rajnii Eddins for the Brave New Voices competition in Washington, D. C. Waqar says, “They really helped us find our voices and to grow as both poets and people. We learned a lot from them.”
YWP Founder and Director Geoffrey Gevalt commented, “Young Writers Project has been inspired by working with MGMC, four individuals with voice, courage, and talent and a unified goal of raising people’s understanding and appreciation of people of Muslim faith. I have learned much from each.”
For those who have not yet experienced the power of the words put together and spoken by MGMC, the group has performance dates already scheduled for the new year. The first is at the ECHO Leahy Center, January 16, as part of a Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration. MGMC are frequently featured at ArtsRiot’s Open Mic Night, a performance venue and gallery in Burlington on Pine Street.
The poets also perform at schools, helping to spread a message of equality and possibility. According to Waqar, the group continues to write new material, “Some of which are on defining the hijab, police brutality, the Syrian refugee crisis, and what it means to be a woman.”
Whether writing about identity or intolerance, the MGMC’s dedication to social justice speaks to issues that affect all communities. As the young women continue to perform, their poetry and they, themselves, serve as impressive reminders of the power of words, communication, and connection. Waqar says, “We’re doing our best to continue to break stereotypes and encourage youth voice and activism.”
Echoing the sentiments of The Huffington Post, Gevalt says of the young women who comprise MGMC, “They continue to grow, take risks and open eyes. We thank them.”