#IStandWithAhmed: A Lesson is the Need for More Compassion and Tolerance

As someone who stands up for literacy, the education of your youth, and compassion, I have to talk about Ahmed Mohamed.

Ahmed, as reported by news organizations, built a digital clock and took it to school to show to his teacher.

It was a proud moment for him.

A Student's Pride Quickly Turns to Disappointment, Fear

But what began as an example of a child being proud of his work and wanting some validation went very wrong.

What happened? As you may know, instead of his teacher applauding his work, she sent Ahmed to the principal’s office. When the police arrived, they handcuffed the 14-year-old Texas student and drove off with him.

Everyone initially seemed to think the boy built and brought a bomb to school. When the truth was revealed – that Ahmed had simply built a clock – Ahmed was released.

As the news followed this story, Ahmed became a sensation on social media. Soon, #IStandWithAhmed soared in popularity on Twitter.

Ahmed’s father wasn’t too happy about the incident. He’s quoted as having said he believed that his son had been profiled because of his name and because of what occurred in New York City on September 11.

What’s true is that instead of investigating Ahmed’s invention further or asking him more questions, the school called the police.

I have to admit that schools tend to be on edge these days. There have been far too many school shootings than I care to count, but Ahmed’s case is especially troubling.

U.S. President & High-Tec Executives Take Note of Ahmed

The teaching of empathy in education gains a lot of attention these days. Yet, when confronted with society members of certain cultural backgrounds, we resort to prejudice and worse. Why?

What happened to Ahmed was wrong on so many levels. We talk about compassion and quote everyone from The Dalai Lama to Martin Luther King, Jr. yet we still tend to fall back on our prejudices or fears about certain cultural stereotypes, especially Muslims.

Fortunately, in the aftermath of the original news reports, many people reached out to Ahmed. This is what President Obama tweeted:

Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great.

And here’s what Hillary Clinton wrote:

Assumptions and fear don't keep us safe—they hold us back. Ahmed, stay curious and keep building.

What a great message!

Ahmed also caught the attention of numerous, high-tech executives.

This is what Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook co-founder, wrote on his Timeline:

Having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest. The future belongs to people like Ahmed. Ahmed, if you ever want to come by Facebook, I'd love to meet you. Keep building.

Twitter extended an invitation as well and Google tweeted this on September 16:

Hey Ahmed - we're saving a seat for you at this weekend's Google Science Fair...want to come? Bring your clock! ‪#IStandwithAhmed

Long History of Intolerance in Our Society

As the story evolves, there is news that perhaps Ahmed didn’t really build a clock. Maybe he rebuilt one. That part of this story doesn’t concern me. What does interest me is the issue of prejudice and lack of empathy that is too prevalent in our society.

Ahmed judiciously made the decision to look for a new school. Who can blame him?

Let’s just hope that his new school treats him with more compassion and less bias. Let’s hope that his new school exemplifies the best in compassion teachings.

#IStandWithAhmed: A Lesson in Compassion & Empathy

Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free.