Ibraheem Khan: Bezos Scholar
by Sophie Lee
This year, Ibraheem Khan, Adv. 810, is one of the lucky few chosen to be a part of the Bezos Scholar Program. With the help of his mentor, Mr. DiFrancesco, he is now working on a project he hopes will ignite change in his own community.
The application process for the program is rigorous. It started last February when Khan submitted all the necessary paperwork, including letters of recommendation and his high school transcript. It was another few months before he found out that he was a finalist and was able to begin the more personalized portion of the application which consists of a phone interview, where Bezos administrators hoped to learn more about applicants than what is written on paper. Despite how extensive this process was, Khan was more than happy to work for such a special scholarship program. “I think the opportunity was pretty unique because it was centered around community change. The whole goal of it was to empower us to enact community change by providing us with experiences we would never ever be able to experience,” he said.
As a scholar, Khan was able to fly to Aspen, Colorado last June and hear from some of the nation’s most forward thinkers at the Aspen Ideas Festival. He said, “The festival really exposed me to a bunch of new things and a bunch of new people who are in their own way, on a national level, combating different issues. That exposure was, I think, really crucial and actually inspired me to think of the project I’m going to be working on for the next few months.”
Khan’s main inspiration was a speaker at the festival, Abdullah Antepli, who is the Muslim chaplain at Duke University. “He was very eloquent and very knowledgeable. He was able to talk about things in a very simple way, talk about very difficult things in a simple way,” said Khan. Antepli’s straightforward and honest message resonated with Khan and helped him to reflect on his own experience with the Muslim faith. “What he made me realize was the extent of religious discrimination, specifically Islamophobia, and how even as Muslims we are being naive about how we are dealing with it,” he said.
The scholars continue their immersion into social activism after the festival as well. Every month, all of the students meet up during their webinars and are sometimes joined by guest speakers. “It’s meant to be a stimulating, thought provoking discussion to help maybe gear us towards what we could do or help us define better what project we’re working on,” added Khan.
As a part of the program, scholars are invited to come up with their own community projects and apply for a $1000 grant in order to put their ideas into action. To do this, the students work with their mentors to refine their plans. Khan said that he and Mr. DiFrancesco are currently talking a few times a week in order to meet their grant proposal deadline at the end of the month.
For his proposal, Khan was motivated to blend his own interests with what he learned through his experience with the Bezos Scholars Program. He said, “The project that I was inspired to do was one that centered on Islamophobia and religious discrimination. It’s centered on verbal arts, because that’s something I’m passionate about too.” He believes that delivering his message in non-traditional format, such as spoken word poetry and rap, would better capture the attention of his audience. “People aren’t just hearing speeches being given to them but are being engaged in a way that will get a message across powerfully and still keep them interested,” said Khan.
Although the actual date of the event isn’t expected to be until the end of the school year, Khan has already begun mapping out his ideas and reaching out to his peers for support. “The keynote of this event would be a panel discussion with leaders from each of the three monotheistic faiths which is Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. These leaders would be discussing how facets from each of their religions are distorted when they’re amplified to the global audience,” he said. Khan is hoping that the event will promote greater understanding between the faiths and lead to more solutions for real world conflicts. Although his audience may be small right now, the change Khan is creating in his own community certainly has the potential to leave a big impact.