Aloha teen Aisha Osman speaks at the White House
Sophomore introduced president and spoke about her experiences as a Muslim-American
When 15-year-old Aisha Osman sat down at her computer and began typing a letter to the president of the United States, she felt waves of emotion release through her body.
She wrote about her experience as one of the few Muslim students at her high school and being bullied for her faith.
Osman, who will be a sophomore at Aloha High School this fall, grew up in a world that looked at her with suspicion because of her race, religion and identity.
It felt so good to finally let it out, she said.
As a teenager, she was afraid her voice wasnt going to be heard, so she couldnt believe it when she got a response from President Barack Obama himself and an invitation to meet him.
Last week, Osman walked up to a podium at the White House and introduced the president before he spoke at an Eid al-Fitr dinner. She remembers being so excited she stuttered as she spoke.
Although her family had been invited to attend the dinner weeks earlier, Osman was given just three days notice that she would introduce President Obama.
In her letter to the president, she shared about the experiences shes faced as a Muslim, African-American and as the daughter of Somalian immigrants.
When Osman, who wears the hijab, walks with her aunt from her house to the Dollar Tree, she notices drivers peeling their eyes away from the road to instead gawk at her.
When she walks down the hallways of Aloha High, she hears people jeering at her with phrases like Allahu Akbar, an Islamic phrase meaning God is greater.
Things came to a head last year when she was a freshman at Aloha. In one classroom, fellow students continually wrote notes calling her a terrorist, a Somalian pirate, and the n-word.
When she told her teachers, they supported her and ensured her that the bullying would stop. While she was hurt by the comments, she didnt let them shake her core.
At that point, I knew who I was, she said.
She hasnt always been so secure. In seventh grade, constant stares pushed her take off her hijab in an effort to blend in with others. But since then, she had grown to embrace her identity as a hijabi, a Muslim-American young woman who chooses to wear a religious headscarf.
During the speech, she talked about her mother, who wasnt able to get an education because of the Somalian civil war.
I tell my mom, whatever Ive accomplished, shes also accomplished, said Osman.
And while her dad did receive an education, it wasnt without struggle. Hed walk three miles to and from school every day from his home in the Somalian countryside. Because his home wasnt equipped with electricity, hed study under the light of a kerosene lamp.
Her father immigrated to the United States in 1996, followed by her mother in 2000.
Osman was born in 2001. She was six months old when planes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center complex, and afterward, Muslim-Americans were ostracized by many of their neighbors.
Throughout her life, she and her siblings have been told go back to where they came from.
I didnt then, but I should have told them I was born and raised in Oregon, said Osman. Oregon is my home.
Because of the negative perceptions that shes faced all her life, she has felt a calling to speak up against hate.
I would tell them that Islam is not a dangerous religion, said Osman. Its just like every other religion. We preach the word of love and unity and care.
The Quran states that if you kill a person, youve killed all of humanity, she added.
She wants to become a human rights activist when she grows up, looking up to role models including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mohammed Ali and Mahatma Gandhi.
Her strength also comes from her parents, who she says would support her throughout anything.
I want to have a huge impact on the world, said Osman. I want to be remembered as somebody who cared.