Batool Ibrahim, junior political science and global studies double major, received the Honorable Mention Campus Award at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s MLK Commemorative Celebration for her leadership on campus.
“I feel honored. I would always say, ‘I’m not MLK or Malcolm X, but I’m trying to make a change,’ and it’s a lot more powerful than what I thought to be compared to MLK’s legacy,” Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim said she has worked in activism for marginalized voices by participating in speech and debate in high school. She believed she was fighting for herself, but has come to see that her fight serves others as well.
“Being here at the university has given me a unique position where advocating for myself at such a Big Ten institution also means that I’m advocating for future Black students,” Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim started her advocacy at UNL when she first met Charlie Foster, assistant vice chancellor for Inclusive Student Excellence, through the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center. From there, she connected with people in the administration such as Kelli King and Nkenge Friday, and professors Lory Dance, Dawne Curry and Jeannette Jones.
Currently, Ibrahim is the president of the Black Student Union, an ASUN College of Arts and Sciences senator, co-chair for the ASUN Campus Life and Safety Committee and an event coordinator at the Women’s Center.
Ibrahim said her motivation to participate and attain leadership was due to her desire to initiate change herself. She said she saw a need to address issues such as low retention rates in Black men on campus along with lack of resources or space to talk about inclusivity and racially charged problems.
“I was at a conference where the keynote speaker said something powerful, ‘If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re the meal at the table,’” Ibrahim said. “That statement changed my perspective forever and I saw that I needed to do something so I don’t become the victim.”
Foster met Ibrahim as a freshman and said she knew within the first encounter Ibrahim had the aptitude to represent students. Foster said she believes Ibrahim’s willingness to champion the truths of those who are disenfranchised is her greatest quality.
“She recognized the space she was entering in a [predominantly white institution] and how that would be impacted by how she carried herself, but she still continued to speak for others,” Foster said.
Ibrahim has responded immediately to concerns in Lincoln. In the summer of 2020, she led the BSU Care Bags program, an initiative that helped locals who were struggling through COVID-19. She also organized protests in response to George Floyd’s death, rallies for Breonna Taylor and sit-ins for Jacob Blake.
She said the secret to her efforts lies in teamwork, persistence and energy.
“Once I set a goal in mind, I won’t stop until I achieve it,” Ibrahim said. “I’ve always had to force my way in and show that I was the top student in the room so that history doubled with the Black excellence I’m surrounded with helped BSU succeed this year.”
Jones, associate professor of history and ethnic studies and member of African and African American Leadership Caucus, has worked extensively with Ibrahim. Jones said Ibrahim’s talent comes from her character as a brave leader as well as a multifaceted activist-scholar.
“Her intentions are always to uplift her community,” Jones said. “If she is given a task, she doesn’t do anything haphazardly. She was also not afraid to directly contact people at the top of the hierarchy, and speak out.”
As Ibrahim continues to protect opportunities for Black and other underrepresented students, she is also working towards becoming an immigration lawyer.
“During [MLK’s] era, he was branded as a communist. Now, he’s honored greatly. I try to stay grounded in that because people make me feel radical,” Ibrahim said. “I have to remember that MLK stuck to his truth. Be revolutionary in the classroom; speak your truth and take up space.”