Ursella Khan called her upcoming Grade 12 year a “year to make a change.”
To say the past two weeks have been a whirlwind for two Red Deer Grade 11 students is a bit of an understatement. Thomas Gower and Khan have gone from speaking against anti-Islam protesters near their high school to receiving a standing ovation from the Alberta Legislature.
Khan, a Muslim, pointed to her mother as the source for much of her strength and beliefs, who was in Calgary at an Amnesty International conference.
“Since I was four we learned the Qur’an and our prayers,” said Khan. “But my mom told us it was our choice to wear a hijab. She taught me to stand up for your rights, your beliefs and your values. She’s instilled those values in my since I was four.”
Though Khan was born in Calgary, she traces her roots back to Pakistan.
“She’s kind of the reason I was out there.”
Khan didn’t walk out of school when the protest was going on with the intent of getting in the middle of the protest and doing an interview, she was just walking to her car.
“This was wrong; why are people here?” she said of the protest. “I was intimidated by the protesters and their hatred. But I thought, someone has to say this.”
A school fight, which both school administrators and students have said was non-racial and not religious, became the subject of wide ranged social media speculation after a video of it was posted to Facebook.
The video doesn’t show much of the fight and doesn’t include any context as to why it happened.
Gower refers to himself as just a kid with a sign. He was present at the fight, of which a short portion is shown in the widely circulated video. He said the protest was based on misinformation and the fight had nothing to do with race or religion.
He said he was one of the few people trying to break up the fight. Then after the fight he saw what was posted on social media.
“I saw all the stuff going around Facebook and I thought it was ridiculous,” said Gower. “So I made a sign.”
When anti-Islam protesters showed up at the school on May 23, Gower stood opposite them carrying a sign that read: “No more hate, no more fear. Refugees are welcome here.” School officials have said the incident, which took place on May 15 and 16 started with a derogatory term used about a Syrian’s sister. It escalated to punches being thrown.
A week later, when he was standing in the Alberta Legislature public gallery, he felt honoured to receive a standing ovation from both sides of the house.
“It was pretty surreal,” said Gower. “I felt insignificant compared the Emergency Medical Technicians who were there. I’m just a kid with a sign.”
“We just stood up for our values and our beliefs against all this hatred,” said Khan. “It was heartwarming.
“I didn’t get my plaque from the Education Minister just because I stood up. I want to take action I want to do something.”
Khan has taken the opportunity to speak out about refugees. On Monday, she will lead a discussion at the Golden Circle about refugees.
“No one wants to grow up to be a refugee,” said Khan. “We have to welcome them and make Canada feel like their new home.”