Interview: A Change-Maker and Activator in Her Own Words

The Homegirl Project chatted with Maliha Kareem about film-making, youth activism, and voter restoration. This is her story.

by Aishwarya Babuji

AB: Who is Maliha Kareem in your own words?

MK: My name is Maliha. I am 19 years old and a junior at UCF studying international studies.

AB: What project are you currently passionate about?

MK: After taking a film class my freshman year of college, I discovered I really enjoy photography and videography. I'm still learning, but I hope to use it to educate and move people. One moment I felt proud of myself was when my work was featured on platforms like the Orlando Sentinel, Undocumedia, and other non-profit organizations websites.

AB: What sort of activism do you do, and when did you start to do it?

MK: I first became involved when I was a freshman in college. I started organizing with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition; their goal was to collect enough petitions statewide to qualify for Florida's November 2018 ballot. We reached the goal. [In November, it was] up to the voters of Florida to vote yes on amendment 4. This would ultimately give voting rights back to over 1.6 million people in the state who have served their time and were charged with nonviolent offenses. Florida is one of [only] four states that still had this law. Voter disenfranchisement serves to silences communities out of democracy, not only on the basis of race, but class.

When there is injustice it is everyone’s responsibility to move up. I don’t really feel like I am an “activist” since that may imply [that] this work is something [that] everyone can[not] do. I am just a member of my community who is trying their best between school, work, and life.

AB: What inspired you to make a difference in the Central Florida community?

MK: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Change starts with us, in our own neighborhoods. In times of rampant attacks on all of our communities, we must support and protect each other. I think we are all powerful individually, but together, we are unstoppable.

AB: What advice would you give young people eager to change their communities?

MK: Voting is crucial and has the ability to create political and systematic change. Yet, I feel that organizing, engaging with our communities, and empowering/supporting each other is also an important factor to assisting that change.

We have seen the power of organizing in wake of such tragedies like the Parkland shooting. Since the incident, young voters make up a large percentage of new people registered to vote in key states. I have much hope with my generation rising up against politicians and corporations that have no respect for the land or earth we live on and only serve to suppress our communities.

If I had to give advice to young people, it would be to just start. Do whatever it is on your mind now, and don’t be discouraged by anyone who thinks you are not capable of it, even if that small voice is your own.

AB: Who/What inspires you in your everyday life?

MK: My parents have been one of my greatest sources of inspiration, as well as the many beautiful people and memories I have [met and] made along the way. Both inspire and mean a great deal to me.

AB: Because The Homegirl Project is all about female empowerment and sisterhood, what does it mean to you to be a "homegirl?"

MK: Sisterhood is a beautiful thing. Supporting and loving each other will allow us to go farther than imaginable.