Salah's Story: Shattering Stereotypes


How does it make you feel when someone makes assumptions about you based on your appearance or name?

Salah, a student writer from the 36th COMPAS Anthology of Student Writing, answered that question for himself, and channeled his experiences with racism and stereotyping into his poem, titled Mystery.

Salah worked with May Lee-Yang, who is an accomplished theater professional and writer. May works with students to use their bodies, voices, and imaginations to create and perform original poems.  

Like many creative processes, getting the words onto paper is not always easy. Salah worked with May to create many drafts of his poem. He explained “At first it was hard to decide what to write about, but May encouraged us. She started out by having us write down a few things that helped define us, that we felt passionate about.”

Salah wrote down some things that defined him: Son, Muslim, 8th grader, soccer goalie. He thought about what he was passionate about and decided to write about some of the negativity he saw on the news. He felt the media cast him, and his Muslim beliefs, in a negative light. 

Salah talked about the adrenaline that pumped through his body as he listened to stereotypes in the media, and channeled that energy into his poem.

He wrote:

“Hot flames coming towards gasoline; 
An explosion of false accusations.
The world does not care to hear more than a name. 
No evidence, just a name;”

“May really got to know each of us;” Salah explained. When the class struggled to find the right words, May encouraged them to keep writing, and keep going, until they had something they could be proud of. 

When Salah’s poem was selected to be in the Young Writers Anthology, he could hardly believe it. His whole family came out to the anthology reading, and he re-connected with the words he had written so passionately. 

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Even today, Salah still has great pride in what he accomplished. “I go around thinking ‘wow, I’m published!’ Salah said. “I definitely think that I’m capable of more now.”

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