Speaking Up

Satya ShawSeptember 8, 2017Unity and DivisionAwesome Moments

Artwork by Nimra Shaida

When I was eight, just one year ago, an awesome moment would have been something like creating my own world out of Legos or building a castle with all my Magna-Tiles or seeing my best friends. But over the last year, I’ve started having another kind of moment.

I am half Indian Hindu and half American Jewish. Recently I have been hearing about people expressing hatred towards immigrants and Jewish people. A playground near my home in Brooklyn was vandalized with anti-Jewish symbols, and parents of another student in my Sunday Hinduism class were spat at. The worst was when I heard about the killing of Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Kansas. Srinivas Kuchibhotla was an Indian Hindu man living in America who was killed by a racist. He came from the same part of India that my mom is from, and he could have been one of my relatives. He could have been me.

I was mortified that someone would do such a terrible thing, and hate others so much. At the same time as this murder, I heard about bomb threats to the Jewish community; I felt like both halves of me were under attack, and this made me scared and angry. But not so scared and angry that I was going to be silent.

There’s a line in a Hamilton song that goes: “History has its eyes on you.” And I believe that history has its eyes on all of us. I’ve been speaking up against the hatred that is being expressed in this country towards immigrants, Muslims, and others. I’ve started to stand up and fight for what I believe in — which is peace and equality for all.

In fact, I was the youngest speaker at a vigil for Srinivas Kuchibhotla that took place in front of the Gandhi statue in Union Square Park in New York City. On that freezing and windy night, I was nervous and scared because I was the only kid there. I worried that because I was a kid, I wouldn’t be taken seriously. I didn’t want people to think of me as cute; I wanted them to actually hear my words. After a woman called my name and introduced me, I spoke into the megaphone, but my voice started out quiet. I thought to myself, “Can I do this?”

But then I looked up at the people gathered in front of me, and saw that they were looking at me with amazement. So I plucked up my courage and started speaking even louder. My voice rang out, and I wasn’t just saying what was on the paper, I really meant it. I still do now. I spoke about how we were all there to say that the person who killed Srinivas was a racist and did so out of hate. We were all there to fight for love, just like Gandhi did, and like his, ours is a fight with words, not weapons.

I also said that even though I was a child, I could speak my mind just like a grownup. Once my speech was done, I listened to the applause ringing through the night. All the people holding their candles looked so beautiful, and the expressions on their faces told me that they weren’t just clapping because I was a child — they had listened and they actually believed what I had said. I have never felt so full of hope — hope that I could actually make a change, and hope that even though there is so much hatred in the world, love still exists.

The rally in Union Square gave me the confidence to speak up many more times. I am part of an organization called Kids For a Better Future (KBF). Every year we support organizations that work for kids' rights around the world. This year, KBF has been working to combat the hatred around us, especially towards Muslims and immigrants.

Being in KBF and speaking up for what I believe in has changed me. One day, I was sitting in my class at school and suddenly I was asked to come to the middle school office. At first I thought I was in trouble. But it turned out that our local radio station wanted to interview me over the phone. The assistant producer asked me, “What message do you have for other kids?” I didn’t know what to say. I was very nervous thinking of all the people who would hear me. But then I remembered how powerful I felt standing in front of Gandhi’s statue opening up my heart, and I knew exactly what to say!

I said in loud voice, “Just because you’re a kid doesn’t mean that you can’t stand up for what you believe in. You don’t have to be a grown-up to go out and protest or demand change.”

I am still the kid who makes Lego worlds and hangs out with friends, but this past year has changed me forever because I have found my voice.

Satya Shaw is an eighth-grader at Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn, New York. He loves to read, sing, and hang out with his friends. His dream is to become an actor.