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The student behind viral #IStandWithAhmed: ‘I had to’

Amneh Jafari created the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed.
Amneh Jafari created the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed.

DALLAS — Fort Worth, Texas, native Amneh Jafari never expected to help spark an international movement.

But when the senior University of Texas Arlington psychology major saw a picture on the news showing Irving teen Ahmed Mohamed in handcuffs for bringing a homemade clock to MacArthur High School, it felt personal.

“It really saddened me,” Jafari said. “I have younger siblings, and I felt like I was looking at them.”

So she did what so many of us do now. The 23-year-old took out her phone Tuesday night and tweeted, creating a now viral hashtag: #IStandWithAhmed.

“I felt like I needed to, I had to,” Jafari said. “It’s something that came out.”

By Thursday night, it had been tweeted more than 1 million times. Since then, Ahmed’s story has shot into another orbit. On Twitter, President Obama invited Ahmed to the White House. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg invited him to headquarters. Even Twitter offered him an internship.

It shows the power of social media to give a voice to the voiceless, Jafari said. “To see that there’s so many good people in the world – sorry,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. “It means so much to see so many people stand for what’s right.”

Ahmed Mohamed said the support from celebrities, politicians and ordinary citizens alike boosted his confidence. “It made me feel like I had the power to fight for others who couldn’t fight back for themselves,” Mohamed said.

The hashtag isn’t just about Ahmed, Jafari adds. And perhaps that’s why it resonates with so many people.

“It’s about all the other kids that have been discriminated against in this country – no matter what religion, race,” she said. “I feel like it also represents them, as well.”

Jafari thinks Ahmed was the victim of Islamophobia, and she says she has been, too. But she believes a simple hashtag has become a huge milestone toward creating awareness.

Irving Police Department and Irving Independent School District have said that Ahmed’s name and religion had nothing to do with the way they handled this case.

She hasn’t had the chance to meet the teen behind the hashtag yet, but Ahmed called her Wednesday. Jafari smiles just thinking about it.

“He was thanking me for everything that has happened and everything that I have done for his cause,” Jafari said. “He’s an amazing kid, and I never would have thought we would have crossed paths this way.”

(Hernandez reports for WFAA-TV, Dallas-Fort Worth)