Redefining The Hyphen with Ahmed Badr

We met Ahmed Badr this year at the Three Dot Dash “Just Peace” summit in New York, where Ahmed was selected as one of thirty Global Teen Leaders. At the summit, the 17-year-old Baghdad-native learned new creative tools to further his work as a curator of youth-centered digital media for refugee and disenfranchised youth around the world. Project 1324 is honored to present Ahmed’s story in his own words:

I began telling stories at a young age. At first they were in Arabic, and slowly they turned into English. At first glance, the two languages seemed like polar opposites; after all, one began on the right side of the page, and one began on the left.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it is that an oxymoron is nothing more than two words brought together by a dash. For me, the most challenging oxymoron was “Iraqi-American.”

Ahmed 1
We returned to Baghdad for the first time in nine years this past December. I took this photo from the roof of my grandparent’s home.

I was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1998. When I was 8 years old, my house was bombed by militia troops. A week later, we relocated to Aleppo, Syria, and that was where I began to learn English.

After two years in Syria, my father decided to apply for refugee status with the United Nations. After months of interviews, we received a call, informing us that we had four one-way tickets to America.

This is when the oxymoron began to form.

Ahmed 2
A stamp from my Iraqi passport, when we landed in America May 19, 2008.

At school, I began being ridiculed for being Iraqi. Everyday I would get questions like, “Are you a terrorist?”, “Are you gonna bomb my house?” and “Is Osama Bin Laden your cousin?”

It was during these very trying times that I realized the power of storytelling and the power of creative expression. I realized that by telling individuals about my past experiences, my culture, and what I stood for, I paved the way for the destruction of stereotypes, flawed perspectives, and hateful attitudes.

I began to tell stories through art, poetry, photography, and narrative. A year later, I launched Narratio.org, a platform for youth empowerment that publishes the poetry, art, photography, and stories of youth from all over the globe. Using the works submitted to the online platform, a booklet is compiled and is presented to youth of all backgrounds through storytelling workshops. These workshops stress the power of storytelling and encourage students to submit their own pieces of creative expression for publication. To date, Narratio has published over 50 works from seven different countries.

Over the years, I’ve had trouble accepting the label of “Iraqi-American.”

I realize that I don’t have to pick one nationality over the other, and that I can combine the two for a more powerful impact.

“Iraqi-American” does not have to be an oxymoron; it is a door towards duality. I realize that I am a man of two worlds, and that my creative expressions can stretch from the Tigris to the Mississippi.

Every poem I write, every picture I capture, and every story I share is a personal letter to the bomb that visited my home nine years ago. With Narratio, I want to provide a platform for youth to share their stories, giving a voice to the disenfranchised stuck between two worlds. I want to bring together individuals of seemingly opposing views and ideologies, and open the door of dialogue, empathy and understanding.

These days, I’ve learned to write my past from right to left, and my present from left to right.

Both languages meet in the center, where my future awaits.

Check out Ahmed’s poem “For All” below, and follow Ahmed on twitter @uBadr. You can find more of Ahmed’s work on Mesopotami.com.

This is for the refugees that could never find the word “home” in the dictionaries of their lives.

This is for the immigrant parents that are trying to preserve their cultures within their children.

This is for the hopeful and the hopeless, dancing across a sea of shallow stereotypes and cultural limitations.

This is for the soldiers who use their weapons as words, and speak without meaning to innocent bystanders.

This is for Baba, who taught me that you should never look down when climbing a mountain.

This is for Mama, who gifted me with the ability to appreciate.

This is for the orphans of Baghdad, Ramadi, Damascus, and Haleb.

This is for the victims of the Al-Ameria bomb shelter, whose bodies melted as the soldiers spoke.

This is for the ambitious youth of third world countries, wanting to change the world with their bare hands.

This is for the divorced families, torn apart by differences and hardships.

This is for the immigration gate at JFK airport in New York City, for being the door to a billion stories of sorrow and triumph,

Our new Ellis.

This is for the bomb that visited my home 10 years ago.

This is for the activists whose souls live in the cracks of the pavement they once marched upon.

This is for the artists who want to change the world, one brush stroke at a time.

This is for pain, struggle, and rain.

After all, we are all shades of the same color.

This is for you all, may your worries be few, and your happiness be plentiful.

This is for all those who I love and once loved.

This is for the relief workers who carry first-aid kits in their hearts.

This is for Iraq and all of its tears.

This is for the soldiers who decided not to speak, your silence is much appreciated.