Williamsburg junior discusses liberalism, protest and Henry David Thoreau

Nadia Jeelani, pictured here, is a Williamsburg High School junior, tells her story about being a liberal voice and feeling taunted for it; and how Henry David Thoreau helped to spark her activism.

By Brett Milam

Nadia Jeelani, a junior at Williamsburg High School, did not join with students to take part in March 14’s nationwide student walkout to memorialize the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting and push for stricter gun control.

Because she was worried, as someone with a self-described “more liberal agenda,” that she’d be taunted and bullied, as has happened in her life before, she said.

“My peers thought the walkout was stupid. They used the words “dumb” and “stupid” to describe the walkout. They thought it would not do anything,” Jeelani said. “They believed that kids would only do it to skip out on class. They talked about how it would affect their education. Hearing all these responses disappointed me.”

Since they aren’t yet of age to vote, Jeelani said protest is their way to make their voices heard.

“Walking out of school is the perfect way to get our voices heard,” she said. “Our government wants us in school just to keep us performing as test-taking robots, and if we interrupt that, then they’ll pay attention.”

Moreover, Jeelani said she doesn’t think it interferes with education.

“Many kids can’t further their education because of a gun,” she said. “These kids will have everlasting mental health effects from this shooting. They still have to attend that school. Now you tell me how you can attend a school where your classmates got shot down? That wouldn’t affect your education, right? It would affect your education.”

Jeelani quoted the philosopher Henry David Thoreau to The Sun, saying, “An individual, must do justice, cost what it may.”

According to Jeelani, no teachers or officials said anything about the walkouts and because of a two-hour delay on March 14, school didn’t start until 10 a.m.

The Sun reached out to officials at Williamsburg Local Schools, but as of press time, haven’t heard back.

Navigating her peers has been difficult, Jeelani said.

“It has been extremely difficult. Not only am I a liberal, but I am a person of color,” she said. “I have peers who have made racist comments to me. I have had peers who shut me out because of my liberal ideology. I lost friends over last year’s presidential race because I supported the Democratic candidate and strongly opposed the Republican candidate.”

If you don’t have the conservative mindset, according to Jeelani, you either stay quiet or “deal with being taunted.”

“What I have noticed on a few interactions is the younger students jump on the bandwagon that the older kids lead political-wise,” she said. “No one can simply agree to disagree anymore. I don’t have any students like me, so school is very difficult for me.”

Jeelani did say teachers and Williamsburg school officials understand her more than her fellow students, so despite any racist invective thrown her way or other taunts, she said she feels safe.

“They embrace my differences and do not silence me which I am very thankful for,” she said. “My principal is very accepting of my culture and views.”

The silencing of her voice and her sense of isolation, however, started in Batavia, she said, where she was bullied throughout middle school, calling it a traumatizing time that silenced a “social butterfly.”

But it was her English teacher, Mr. Isaac, she said, who introduced her to, “Civil Disobedience,” by Thoreau through a class assignment, which changed her and “sparked her activism.”

“Not only that, he inspired me to cut out all social media, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and focus more on the things that go on around me,” she said. “Instead, with my time, I check news sites and watch the news. I also created a blog to take up my time.”

Because of the new focus and energy on the news, she’s become more aware of issues, like the walkout.

Jeelani is planning to be part of the nationwide March For Our Lives on March 24, with the local march in Cincinnati.

“There is a Facebook group called March For Our Lives – Cincinnati that I have been getting all my information off of. I would love to see students from local schools attend,” she said. I will be there with some of my family members. If you attend, don’t forget to bring your posters. If anyone is in need of posters I will be making posters all throughout this week for free.”

At the end of the day, Jeelani said, adults have proposed the alternative of “walk up” not out or argue their voices don’t matter, but it comes down to not being able to vote, which means, “our voices cannot be heard,” she said.

“Because our voices aren’t being heard, in about two years when we can vote for the president, you would have wished you would’ve listened to us now,” Jeelani said. “We will use our voice, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop us. You’re either with us or against us. I want to prevent such an event that happened in Parkland from ever happening again.”