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Sometimes, just sometimes, you log online and think to yourself, “Wow, I love the Internet.” This was one of those weeks.
An innocent 14-year-old geek was discriminated against, and the entire might of the online world stood behind him – with hardware geeks leading the way.
Ahmed Mohamed is a student at McArthur High School in Irving, Texas. He loves tinkering with electronics and building things. He was especially proud when he hacked together a digital clock in a pencil box. He took it to school to show it to his engineering teacher.
— Twitter Data (@TwitterData) September 16, 2015
“He was like, ‘That’s really nice,'” Ahmed told Dallas News. “‘I would advise you not to show any other teachers.'”
Ahmed hid the clock, but it beeped during another class. The teacher asked him to show what beeped. That’s when things got crazy: Ahmed was suspected and accused of building a bomb. The police were called, and he was actually arrested.
Twitter lit up after media entrepreneur Anil Dash tweeted the story, along with a photo of Ahmed in a NASA t-shirt:
I expect they will have more to say tomorrow, but Ahmed's sister asked me to share this photo. A NASA shirt! pic.twitter.com/nR4gt992gB
— Anil Dash (@anildash) September 16, 2015
It’s difficult to overlook the possibility of a racist bias here, but let’s be thankful that the Internet stood up for this guy. Soon, a Texas college student, Amneh Jafari, tweeted the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed that caught on fire:
— Amneh Jafari (@AmnehJafari) September 16, 2015
The hashtag started trending, and once it was determined that Ahmed was innocent, he was released. But the damage had already been done. Ahmed was a tinkerer and the Internet’s geeks were ready to stand in unison. Big names spoke up, like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, among others:
— Twitter (@twitter) September 16, 2015
— Daniel Tani (@Astro_Tani) September 16, 2015
Hey Ahmed- we're saving a seat for you at this weekend's Google Science Fair…want to come? Bring your clock! #IStandwithAhmed
— Google Science Fair (@googlescifair) September 16, 2015
— Chanda (???) (@IBJIYONGI) September 16, 2015
— Bobak Ferdowsi (@tweetsoutloud) September 16, 2015
And then, one voice weighed in that stopped all others in their tracks.
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.
— President Obama (@POTUS) September 16, 2015
“I repeatedly told (the police), ‘It’s a clock,’ but no matter how much I told them, I guess that’s not a bold enough answer to them,” Ahmed told ABC News. “I want it (the clock) back, with my humility.”
What He Built: Make magazine, which is all about makers and hackers, has attempted a breakdown of the clock that Ahmed build. The analysis reveals a pretty simple digital alarm clock, and not something to be alarmed by.
How You Can Still Help Ahmed and Other Students Like Him
Through this sudden exposure, Ahmed has got offers that may people only dream about. From a Twitter internship to meeting President Obama, it seems like Ahmed is set for life. And tweets like this can make you think it’s the end of the story…
— cel (@lxopez) September 16, 2015
But it’s not. Ahmed is just one kid, and even his future isn’t secure. There are many people who got famous because of Twitter, but online fame is fleeting. After those 15 minutes, you need to get back to real life. And that’s where Ahmed wants your help, to ensure he and others like him have a better future.
Activists and citizens from Texas and across America have set up an official #IStandWithAhmed LaunchGood campaign to raise funds, with a $100,000 goal. The money raised will be split 50-50 between a scholarship fund for Ahmed and enabling access to MakerSpaces for other students like him who excel in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.
Why is this necessary when he seems to be getting offers from big companies? It’s not about race alone, as can be seen with the story of Apple’s Steve Wozniak above and several others who shared their tales on social networks. It’s because schools in America have low tolerance for inquisitive minds who dare to think outside the box.
The Reason blog has cited several examples of other students being hauled up, suspended, and even arrested for just breaking the norm. It’s important to encourage young minds and help kids learn about the science of everyday stuff.
The #IStandWithAhmed LaunchGood campaign’s founders write, “We cannot undo the fear and frustration Ahmed felt when being interrogated by police and walking out in handcuffs. This moment will forever impact his life. But let’s show him that he is not alone and we support his love for engineering and inventing. At a time when our nation lags behind the world in math and sciences, these funds will help him continue his education and reach his potential.”
If you are uncomfortable with giving to Ahmed’s official campaign above, don’t worry, you can still help other students who might face similar problems. NASA has been actively involved with encouraging STEM students, and their tweet can point you in the right direction:
— NASA (@NASA) September 16, 2015
These are all US-centric endeavors, so if you want to support a similar cause outside the country, you should be able to find one by Googling. Alternately, consider teaching your STEM knowledge online to students who are interested in what you do.
— ReThink Media (@rethink_media) September 16, 2015
If you’re a parent, you can raise your kid to be a tinkerer with cool home projects and encouraging their innovative minds.
Similarly, you might want to pick up a Kano to let them build their own PC and learn to code. Kano is a DIY computer kit as simple as Lego, with an interface that encourages and teaches kids the basics of programming.
Just remember, a little help can make a big difference.
— Ahmed Mohamed (@IStandWithAhmed) September 16, 2015
Will You Donate to Ahmed?
The online world seems to be arguing about whether it’s worth donating to Ahmed’s campaign, given the exposure and opportunities he has been offered, or to support other causes instead. What’s your take?
Image credit: Students soldering by Mitch Altman, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.