Teen's #BlackLivesMatter Essay Is Going Viral

by Lara Rutherford-Morrison
David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images

High school senior Ziad Ahmed decided to make a statement in his college applications this year. The New Jersey teen wrote #BlackLivesMatter 100 times in his college application for Stanford — and he got in. Since Ahmed posted the essay on social media last week, the story has gone viral, with a number of prominent activists giving their support. Unsurprisingly, given the controversy that surrounds the Black Lives Matter movement, the story has also sparked quite a bit of negative feedback.

On Saturday, Ahmed, 18, tweeted an image of his college application to Stanford, in which he was called upon to answer the question, “What matters to you, and why?” Ahmed’s response was simple: “#BlackLivesMatter” a hundred times over. The tweet shows the "essay" alongside Ahmed’s acceptance letter to the university, welcoming him to “Stanford’s class of 2021.”

Ahmed’s tweet has been since been retweeted 13,000 times and “liked” 27 thousand times. Supporters include 2016 presidential candidate and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley (for whom Ahmed has worked as an intern) and Women’s March organizer and activist Linda Sarsour. Ahmed told NBC News, “The hashtag conveys my frustration with the failure of judicial system to protect the black community from violence, systemic inequity, and political disenfranchisement.”

Ahmed’s tweet has also received significant backlash; NBC News reports that trolls have targeted Ahmed, who is Muslim, with personal, often Islamophobic, attacks. “It's certainly been a hard to navigate and the vitriol is sobering,” Ahmed told NBC News.

Journalist Monique Judge, who wrote about Ahmed’s essay for The Root, took to Twitter to clarify (once again) that saying "Black Lives Matter" does not mean that others don’t.

Some critics have argued that Ahmed’s essay represents an empty appropriation of the Black Lives Matter hashtag. One Twitter user, for instance, wrote, “[A] real ally would've wrote something poignant instead of this bullsh*t attempt to look progressive.” While one could argue about the effectiveness of repeating the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag vs writing something more substantive, it is clear that Ahmed has a very real commitment to activism and community service. At only 14 years old, he founded Redefy, an organization dedicated to combatting stereotypes, and on his website he describes volunteering for a number of organizations and traveling around the world for service missions.

In an interview with Mic, Ahmed explained that his support for Black Lives Matter is deeply connected to his faith. "To me, to be Muslim is to be a BLM ally, and I honestly can't imagine it being any other way for me,” he said. “Furthermore, it's critical to realize that one-fourth to one-third of the Muslim community in America are black ... and to separate justice for Muslims from justices for the black community is to erase the realities of the plurality of our community.”

Stanford has declined to comment on Ahmed’s application, so it’s unclear how much his #BlackLivesMatter response factored into his acceptance to the university. Ahmed has pointed out on Twitter that this response was only one element in a much longer application. Separate from this particular essay question, Ahmed’s résumé is impressive; in addition to his service work, he has co-founded a consulting firm, delivered a TedxTalk, interned for O’Malley and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns, and been invited to the White House.

In addition to Stanford, Ahmed has also been accepted to Yale and Princeton. He’ll have to make his final decision by May 1.