Coffee Break: Denver Refugee Student Zahra Abdulameer on the Power of Inclusivity and Diversity

Feb 8, 2017 12:00:00 AM

by Michael Vaughn

Zahra Abdulameer and her family came to Denver in 2009 from Iraq. She’s one of many refugee students who attend Denver’s South High School—a “welcoming center” school for refugees. She’s one of the students who talked with the leadership of the Denver Public Schools during a visit to the school that came in the wake of the Trump administration’s executive order targeting refugees and immigrants. And she talked with us about how the diversity and spirit in Denver and at her school have strengthened her resolve. Are you a coffee drinker? Tea? Are coffeehouses and the drinks we like here a lot different here than what they're like back home? I am more of a tea drinker. When I do drink coffee, it is usually American and for staying awake on a school night. In my culture, however, we have a different coffee tradition. Whenever we have an Arab gathering, we make very thick coffee, and look at the images left by the coffee grounds in the cup in order to read the future. I find that fascinating, so I am learning how to read it myself. Please share a little bit about your family and your background. What brought you to the United States and what has your schooling been like? I came to the United States in 2009, after living in Iran and Turkey for a year each, in hope of finding refuge here. After the long-awaited approval, we came to America. The initial reason for our migration was actually forced. My dad was threatened by a terrorist group for working with Americans. My parents wanted to move to a place where our safety was secure, not to mention due to the educational opportunities my parents hoped America would have. They believed that it would provide us with a more promising future than the one we had in Iraq. When we came to Denver, we were welcomed with open arms. I went to a very diverse middle school, and decided to continue that trend by attending a diverse high school. Meeting people from all over the globe was really exciting. What has the last week been like, since the executive order was announced? Although I fear that President Trump’s ban is going to create turmoil, I have been hopeful that things will get better. I have been granted the opportunity to speak to thousands of people, who showed support for me and my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters at a rally, which was a really reassuring experience. It is inevitable that I feel targeted by his ban, but I am choosing to be optimistic and believe that because people are uniting against him, we can be more powerful than one person. What does your future look like? Have you figured out what you want to  do after high school? Because I have fortunately been granted good educational opportunities, I have been able to thrive in my high school years. After high school, I plan on attending the University of Colorado, Boulder. I am leaning toward a medical career path and one that has to do with law. Although those two paths are completely different, I plan on being successful in whichever path I end up taking. All I want to do is make a positive impact on the world surrounding me, regardless of what my career will be. What's your favorite part of going to a school like South, one that's a "welcoming center" for students from all over the globe? I would have to say the inclusivity. Everyone knows how rich South’s diversity is. However, I feel that another strong point it holds is including everyone regardless of their differences. There are other schools that hold diverse populations, but I feel that what makes South different is its ability to not neglect anyone. I feel that lots of schools lack this factor because students tend to steer into “cliques” that encompass their race only. At South, everyone gets along and befriends one another. Wherever you turn, you can see tasteful groups of friends that share common interests and disregard each other's physical differences.

Michael Vaughn

Michael Vaughn was the founding Communications Director of Education Post. Prior to that, Mike worked for 18 years in the communications offices of two urban school districts. He served in a variety of communications roles for the Chicago Public Schools starting in 1996, shortly after Mayor Richard M. Daley took control of CPS, and eventually served as the district's Communications Director until Arne Duncan’s appointment as U.S. Secretary of Education in 2009. Mike then served for five years as the Chief Communications Officer for the Denver Public Schools, a national leader in ed reform.

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