story by Aishwarya Babuji
illustration by Safiya Dewji
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
This simple quote by Mahatma Gandhi has proven to be influential in 19-year-old Maliha Kareem’s life.
Maliha, now a junior at the University of Central Florida, began to be this said change in her freshman year. She started working with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), an organization “committed to ending the disenfranchisement and discrimination against people with convictions.” At the time of Maliha's cooperation, the FRRC was working to gather enough petitions throughout Florida to qualify for the state’s November 2018 ballot. The FRRC wanted the approval of Amendment 4 - an amendment that would restore voting rights to over 1.6 million “Returning Citizens,” or people who had previously been convicted for nonviolent offenses. They were working for this amendment, as Florida was one of only four states to have had a law barring Returning Citizens from practicing their right to vote. Maliha and the FRRC wanted to abolish voter disenfranchisement, as it silences minority communities out of democracy.
Here we are in December of 2018. The blood, sweat, and tears of Maliha and the FRRC have paid off, as Amendment 4 was passed in Florida, and there are only 1.5 more weeks until Returning Citizens can register to vote.
Maliha felt that it was her duty, as a member of the community, to step up and make this happen. She feels that wherever injustice and discrimination is present, it is the responsibility of anyone and everyone to help put an end to it. This is why she does not like to be labeled as an “activist.” Kareem believes that this word may allude to the idea that working to better the community is only the civic duty of a few, when in reality she encourages everyone to take part in it, as the act of helping does not have to be confined to particular groups.
Though Kareem views voting as a reliable way to create a political impact, she also knows that sometimes, simply engaging with one’s community can help to promote that systematic change. She says that she has seen this in effect when looking at young people urge their fellow peers to register to vote. When she sees such acts of courage and righteousness, Kareem, like many others, is filled with gleaming hope. She supports her generation when they take a stand against corrupt politicians and corporations, and she truly believes that they will be a factor in the demise of such self-serving organizations.
Maliha also runs a popular Instagram page, @mk.fla, where she documents the work of young activists and changemakers through art and photography, allowing their stories to be heard and providing a human face to her movement. Her account is a beam of light in today's increasingly vitriolic political climate.
Maliha's identity as an upstanding citizen and humble role model is fueled by those around her. According to her, her parents, who are one of her greatest sources of inspiration, shaped her into the woman that she is today. Kareem also cherishes every beautiful person that she has met and every memory that she has made, for they have all had an impact on her way and course of life.
Maliha Kareem truly took Gandhi’s quote to heart. Whenever she has gotten the chance, she has worked to better her community because she realized that if she wants to see change, she has to help make it happen. To all the young creators, start to work on what you think will make the world a better place and join others with the same aspirations . To all the young women, continue to preserve the bond of sisterhood. In each case, “supporting and loving each other will allow us to go farther than imaginable,” as beautifully put by Maliha Kareem herself.