FanMail- Malala Yousafzai

For this edition of FanMail, I write with a disgusted mind and an inspired heart.  When I woke up this morning and tuned into the Today show I heard of a 15 year-old activist (which kind of already blew me away since the most I was ever an “activist” for at 15 was a “no uniform” policy at school) who had been shot in a cowardly act for revealing the truth and spreading awareness about the atrocities carried out by militant forces in her homeland. 

I couldn’t help but be humbled by her story.  While most American teens’ major concerns include how many Facebook likes they have or how many Twitter followers they get each day, Malala Yousafzai is defending women’s rights, many whom the Taliban have banned from attending school.  I don’t mean to downplay the efforts of the youth I work with, but just the other day I was thinking about all of the times I’ve been questioned about the incentives we offer for students who simply “show up” to our program.  Where I was happy as a student just to have a pizza party and a teacher with a sense of humor, today’s students are expecting $150 gift cards and teachers to jump through circus hoops (literally) to emphasize the importance of world history.  Meanwhile, young girls like Malala are out making it. 

At the age of 11, Malala began to gain media attention after writing a blog for BBC detailing life under the Taliban regime.  She wrote in detail about the Taliban takeover of Swat Valley, a place where she resided with her mother, father and two younger brothers and two chickens.  Her father, a poet, school owner and educational activist was asked by a BBC Pakistani reporter if any of the girls that attended his school would like to write about their experiences under the regime. Initially a girl named Aisha accepted the opportunity, but backed out when her parents forbid her to contribute her story.  Malala, four years younger at the time, stepped up to the challenge and revealed an unimaginable story of the banning of women attending school, TV, music, shopping and the bodies of beheaded policeman hanging from town squares.  In her first entry she writes:

“On my way from school to home I heard a man saying ‘I will kill you’. I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.”

Everyday working in the Philadelphia school district I see attendance numbers dropping daily as students decide to turn their already three-day weekends into four, early dismissals whenever the temperature rises about 85 degrees and students who call me to tell me they can’t make it to class because it’s raining (and the sad part is I am happy because at least they called).  Meanwhile oceans away, young women are dodging bombs and bullets at the chance to have an education while the Taliban not only denies them the right to go to school but destroys the actual building in the process. 

Later blogs not only reveal Malala’s journalistic eye for detail but a poetic prose as well as she writes of toffees raining from the sky as tokens of the Pakistani military’s sympathy and a maid’s flee from the city’s danger as she writes:

“People do not leave their homeland on their own free will – only poverty or a lover usually makes you leave so rapidly.”

Her continued activism included interviews with media outlets like Canada’s Toronto Star where she frequently advocated for women’s education rights, a position of chairperson of the District Child Assembly Swat, a nomination from Desmond Tutu for the International Children’s Peace Prize and in 2011 she received Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize.

On October 9, 2012 while riding the bus home from school after taking an exam, Malala was shot by a masked Taliban gunman who upon boarding the bus announced, “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all,” before she was identified and shot once in the head and once in the neck.  And even in his cowardly actions, I can’t help but realize that he as well as the Taliban regime understood what many adults all over the world unfortunately miss:  When their energy and enthusiasm are filtered in the right direction, our young people can make tremendous changes that impact the world.

Although doctors successfully removed a bullet that was lodged near her spinal cord, Malala still remains in intensive care although small movements in her hands and feet and a verbal response to a teacher immediately after the assassination attempt indicates that there is no paralysis and she has a 70% chance of survival according to her doctors. Pakistani officials are offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of the attackers. 

Not to make light of anyone’s pain or struggle, but seriously, while we are outraged and up-in-arms about a girl getting upper-cutted on a Cleveland bus,  Malala was in the fight for her life on one  thousands of miles away.  As a youth-serving professional in the past two years there have been many moments when I’ve questioned my profession educating, advocating for and spreading awareness about the challenges of a population that most days appears to be ungrateful, entitled and honestly committed to failure.  But when I hear the stories of young people like Malala I can’t help be re-inspired by the cheesy saying that the children indeed are “our future” and I almost feel like I am not doing enough.  As hopeless as that may sound it’s actually a good feeling to have because young people like Malala motivate me and remind me why I chose my profession in the first place. 

Malala once stated, “My purpose is to serve humanity.”  At some point in every person’s life they have to question the legacy they’re leaving behind and in what way no matter how big or small they are contributing to the world.  What will people say about your life when you’re long gone besides the basic “so-and-so was such a kind, generous person”?  What kind of impact will you have made on someone’s life besides a re-tweet and an Instagram comment?  At the mere age of 15, Malala has managed to master something that many adults often struggle to do: inspire without intimidating.  A classmate states, “Every girl in Swat is Malala.  We will educate ourselves. We will win.  They can’t defeat us.”



7 Dumb Ways You’re Putting Your Safety in Jeopardy

I hate the subway.  First of all you’re technically underground in a dark, creepy, graffiti littered ten foot wide tunnel with no cell phone signal in most cases.  Secondly, for some reason I can’t seem to erase horrifying YouTube images of a homeless man strung out on bath salts sizzling like a barbecued Porterhouse on the third rail.  There’s something about public transportation that makes me feel like I’m fighting for my life with every time I walk through the turnstile.

Nonetheless, in the city of Brotherly Love there’s been a recent outbreak of snatch and grabs amongst smart phones that are carelessly being held like tissues as commuters travel the streets.  As I emerged from the dreaded subway the other day a transit cop took it upon himself to instruct me to put my phone away so I wouldn’t be the next victim (But let’s be honest: I have a Blackberry Bold with no touchscreen.  The thief would have to spend more money stealing it than the damn phone is worth).  A few of my Facebook friends have even posted panicked statuses about how their exciting walk home posting Instagram pics was ruined as they watched their $200 Apple emblem flash from sight with a thief on a bike.  I couldn’t help but think I wouldn’t walk home with my Benz dangling carelessly in between my fingers, so why are people so naïve when it comes to keeping their cellular investments safe.

When you’re a woman living in the city, at one time or another you’ll contemplate being a victim of a random act of crime.  The sad truth is that statistics show that women, urban residents and African-Americans run the highest risk of being a victim of robbery, violent attacks and sexual assault.  But that doesn’t mean that we have to walk around with a sign that says, “Assault me, please,” on our foreheads.  Unfortunately I see women putting their safety at risk on a daily basis and many don’t realize it until it’s too late.  Maybe I’m being slightly paranoid, but I rather be paranoid that salty with no cell phone any day.  If you’re doing any of the following, it’s no longer a matter of if you’ll be a victim, but when.

1.  Stop pulling out your map in the middle of Times Square.

My love of travel hasn’t necessarily helped the fact I’m directionally challenged.  But being a tourist doesn’t mean I have to look like one.  What’s the point of the geniuses at Google putting people’s houses and cars on blast via Google maps if you’re not going to use it to navigate your way around unfamiliar places.  We spend hundreds of dollars on fancy phones just to Instagram and play Angry Birds, but still don’t know where the hell we’re going since we haven’t bothered to blow the dust of the GPS ap.  Pulling out a map like picnic blanket or asking for directions is begging to be taken advantage of.  When traveling, research places you want to go, intersections and how you will get around so you can avoid an unexpected tour of New Jack City.

2.  Keep your purse near your “no-no” spots.

I have a rule about purses and keeping my money and cards close to me:  If you’re going to rob me, you’re going to have to cop a feel to do it.  I don’t care how nice or safe a place seems, you should not be leaving your purse unattended while you go to the salad bar or hanging it on the back of your chair out of sight.  You’re just making it easier for your identity to get stolen.

 3.  Unless your phone has a mace ap, stop holding it in front of your face.

Someone on a college campus near you is walking around with an Ipad in front of their face like it has the ability to turn into a ninja in the event of an attack.  I’ve had packs of Orbit Bubblemint that I treated with more care than some of you do with these expensive gadgets you tote around.  We get it: You’re cool and up-to-date on the latest technology. Well how about downloading something that instructs you on how not to audition for the victim role on The First 48.

Portrait of a runner listening to music on headphones while running outdoors in a forest. healthy wellness fitness lifestyle.  Stock Photo - 14462915

4.  Beats by Dre just might land you a beat down.

I would love to blast J. Cole’s “Hello Mr. Nice Watch” while I am on the bus on the way to work daydreaming of the day where I can get paid without having to leave my Sleep Number. In the meantime I’m going to need to have all of my senses to be aware of the first sign of foolishness.  I only wear one ear bud when I’m traveling and listening to tunes.  Let Beats by Dre cancel out your bestie’s “I can’t keep a man” rants, but you might want to hear the guy high on bath salts whose telling you your face smells like a Baconator.

5.  Don’t take certain areas for granted.

At the end of the day when it comes to crime, there’s only so much you can do before our old friend fate takes over.  If I‘ve learned anything over the past few months it’s that you could be sitting at a premiere of summer blockbuster in a small town in Colorado or riding your bike through the projects in the middle of the day, all it takes is someone with beef, bad intentions or the slightest bit of crazy that could land you on the eleven o’ clock news. Don’t assume that if there are white picket fences and green lawns that you’re safe.  Conduct yourself with common sense and a healthy dose of suspicion wherever you are.

6.  Keep the stroller on the curb.

Maybe there’s a secret parent code that I won’t understand until I have little ones of my own, but why do some of you parents insist on pushing your stroller into the street while you wait for the light to change on the curb?  And why do you load your child in to the car on the side where traffic is zooming past?  Is there some healthy child development technique that involves seeing how fast you can strap the car seat in before someone clips you with their mirror?  Stop giving drivers so much credit and keep your child out of harm’s way even if it means risking your own safety (and convenience).

7.   Remember: When car vs. bicycle, car wins 99% of the time.

Bikers, you gotta love the way they weave around your fender all self-righteous in their exercise and effort to save the environment.  What befuddles me is how they speed through red lights when the coast is clear and disobey all kinds of traffic laws, but have the nerve to get an attitude when you cut them off when you’re making a right turn.  Guess what?  In a collision the thing with the engine is probably going to win.  You’re not a car, so stop acting like one and get ready to get owned if you think traffic laws don’t apply to your Schwinn.