Her parents had immigrated to Baltimore, Maryland from Sri Lanka. Formerly known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka is an island nation just south of India. Despite a civil war which raged for over 30 years, ending in 2009, the nation is a peaceful blend of cultures and ethnicities. There is a rich heritage of Buddhism, by far the most prevalent religion, yet there are significant numbers of Hindu, Muslim and Christian, primarily Roman Catholic.
The family heritage was Sri Lankan, but she was born in Baltimore, where she was raised along with two older brothers. Throughout school she was diligent in her studies, driven to learn and determined to be successful. As with any normal girl her age, she laughed with her friends, talked about boys and became a huge fan of Taylor Swift and the TV show Gossip Girl. Things began to change for her around the time she began high school. It was then that she adopted the custom of her Muslim faith and began to wear a head-scarf, known as a hijab, when in public.
Most people began to look at her differently, to treat her differently and to keep their distance. She hadn’t changed from the likeable, intelligent driven girl she had always been. Born and raised in the U.S., she only knew herself to be an American – appreciating the freedom and opportunities her country presented. Apparently, by merely wearing a head-scarf – a hijab – she felt some of that freedom compromised.
She was very intelligent – very well-read. There was no delusion on her part that her country had been very strongly affected by people of her faith – extremists – terrorists. She also knew that while it seemed that most terrorists were Muslim, the vast majority of Muslims were peace-loving and not terrorists. That fact was widely overlooked and the negativity that resulted was palpable.
What could a 16 year-old high school student do? Most would do nothing – not her. She believed that education and communication would help to eliminate some of the misperceptions. With that as her goal, she began an online initiative she called The Hijab Project. She created a website which encouraged women who wore a hijab to share their stories. She challenged other women to wear a hijab for a day and share their experiences. As a result of this effort, she was invited to the floor of the U.S. Senate to receive an official citation commending her project.
By the time she was 17, she had become a contributor to the Huffington Post. That was no easy feat – she had to persistently pursue that opportunity without being deterred by the many responses rejecting her proposal. She finally sent her story via email directly to Arianna Huffington, who embraced the talented, eager writer and activist. She subsequently became a contributor to CNN and Bustle. Also at 17, she wrote and published a book – The Foreigners – intended to eliminate stereotypes about Muslims.
Today she is an 18 year-old freshman at Brown University – where she studies pre-law and is perhaps the only student wearing a hijab on campus. She is perhaps most known for an open letter she sent to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump after he called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. In that letter she provided her perspective on what it’s like to be an American who happens to be Muslim. She went on to share her beliefs about the far-reaching and negative impact of his comments. To date, she has not received a response.
She has received media coverage including The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, ABC television, Global News and more. She was named one of the twenty most impressive high school students to graduate in 2015 by Business Insider. Named as one of the 100 Most Inspiring Women of 2015, she was featured in that season of BBC’s “100 Women.”
Those achievements and accolades are impressive, especially in that they have been accomplished by a woman who is just 18. Her age is not, however, what drove these feats. These are the types of results which come from building a fearless brand – and while that is not what she set out to do, Amara Majeed has done just that.
Fearless Brands are built from displaying courage in the face of fear
From a very early age Amara Majeed’s parents taught their children how ‘lucky and privileged’ they were to live in the United States. She discovered her purpose unexpectedly – as the result of practicing her religion. That purpose is to promote peace and harmony by building understanding and eliminating misperceptions about Muslims.
This post is not about religion. It is not about politics. It is about the powerful results realized by building fearless brands. Amara is quoted in a February 2015 Baltimore Sun article as saying “I want to transform myself into this concept of liberty and equality. People die, but ideas don’t. I want my ideas to live on long after I’ve left this world.” That thinking defines a fearless brand.
When it comes to building your own fearless brand, what can you learn from Amara’s story?
To thine own self be true – The easier softer path for Amara would have been to simply stop wearing her hijab. Authenticity is at the root of every fearless brand. Self-integrity is the ultimate definition of authenticity. Be true to yourself.
Courage is acting in the face of fear – We all have fears – even fearless brands. Amara – and most American Muslims – live in fear every day. It’s not about being fearless – it’s about being courageous in spite of your fears. It’s her courage which has allowed Amara to have such a far-reaching and profound impact.
Don’t quit, don’t settle – In that same Baltimore Sun article Amara Majeed states “I’m constantly trying to up my game,” she said. “I want people to be able to look at me and know what I stand for.” Branding is a never-ending process. There is always room to upgrade your brand – to improve your skills and recharge your purpose. Stay diligent. Seek to add value.
Amara Majeed is clearly an exceptional young woman, she has had more of an impact on the world by age 18 than most do in a lifetime. Let that inspire you. Find your purpose and pursue it with passion. Build your fearless brand. Celebrate the results that are guaranteed to follow.