Dozens of pairs of eyes stared at the woman in the scarf as she walked through the halls of Greenwood Community High School.
Ammina Brown wore her hijab, the traditional head covering for Muslim women, just as she did every day. As a new student at Greenwood, and one of the only Muslims, Brown could feel the glances from her classmates.
No one was mean or seemed resentful, but the sophomore could sense the confusion everywhere she went.
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“They weren’t ugly stares, but curiosity,” she said. “I was the only person at that time wearing a head scarf.”
Two years later, Brown envisioned a way to help educate her classmates about the scarves that she wears every day. With the permission of school administrators and the encouragement of her teachers, she spent her lunch period Friday demonstrating how to wear the hijab, explaining its significance to the Muslim faith and letting classmates try on the stylish collection of scarves she brought in.
The experience served as a way for Brown, now a senior, to leave the Greenwood community with a better understanding of her faith.
“This is really where it’s needed, because a lot of high-schoolers don’t know very much about it. This way, they’ll know more and not just judge Muslim students,” she said.
As students settled into the cafeteria, Brown set up on a table off to the side. She unpacked nicely folded scarves in a multitude of colors: sky blue with silver accents, pale purple, pink and turquoise.
Once she was ready to start her demonstration, she made an announcement over the cafeteria’s loudspeaker, inviting people to come up and learn more about the hijab. Brown didn’t have to wait very long before the first few students came up.
Madison Barrett, a freshman, wanted to find out what Brown was doing. She appreciated that one of her classmates was taking a risk to help educated others about her culture.
“One person can start a movement, and it just takes people to rally behind that person to create something big,” Barrett said “Every person to support her helps. I don’t think it’s something that I’ll do regularly, but it’s good to try everything once.”
Barrett and another freshman, Megan Boyd, planned to wear their scarves throughout the day. They felt that in order to better understand another culture, they had to try to experience it as best they could.
“I feel that a lot of people are judged for wearing hijabs, and I want to see how they’re treated, how people react and how they’re looked at,” Boyd said.
When Brown started attending Greenwood during the 2014-15 school year, her classmates were immediately drawn to the hijab. Most had never met a Muslim woman who wore one and had questions about the different aspects of the head covering.
“They would look me in the face and ask why I wore it, what it was called, if I had to wear it certain days,” she said. “I would just explain to them over the years about it.”
The situation played out over and over throughout her high school career. At the same time, a few other younger students who also wore the hijab starting attending Greenwood.
Brown thought she could use her own experience as a teaching moment.
“I’m a senior, and all of the other Muslims are underclassmen, so maybe I could do something so they wouldn’t feel bad about wearing their scarves,” she said. “If another Muslim girl is struggling to wear her scarf, she should feel strong about it, and not feel like people are judging her wrongly. At least other people would be educated about it.”
The best way to do that would be to let other students touch, try on and wear for a day head scarves, an idea that has been used in colleges throughout the country. From her research, such cross cultural learning experiences were rare at the high school level.
Brown took her idea directly to Greenwood principal Todd Garrison, who supported the project and helped her figure out the best time to do it.
Greenwood had established a cultural competency initiative in the past, allowing students to better understand people other than themselves. Brown’s project fit right into that, Garrison said.
“The more educated the students are, the more educated our teachers are, the more educated our community becomes about the diversities of different people,” he said. “We talked to her that she may have some uncomfortable questions about why she does this, but she was really excited about it.”
In preparation, Brown purchased a collection of brightly colored and fashionable scarves to bring in to school. She set up at a table and invited people to come up and learn more about the coverings.
Brown helped people try on the hijabs, and if they’d like, wear them the entire day.
“I want them to feel what its like to wear a scarf,” she said.
Even if people didn’t want to try on a hijab, Brown explained its significance and why Muslims wear it. The Quran instructs Muslim women to practice modesty, and the hijab is a way to reflect that faith, Brown said.
“A lot of people think that Muslim women wear the scarf for men, but it’s not for that. You don’t live your life for another person, you live it for you,” she said. “It’s for you to get closer to God. I wear the scarf because God commanded me to.”
While Brown wears the hijab as a display of her faith, she also has connected to the scarves through her love of fashion. The potential for the items to be pious yet elegant and beautiful has inspired her plans for the future.
She is currently job shadowing a local fashion designer, where she had the opportunity to create her own dress. After graduation, she hopes to attend college for fashion design and work in the industry.
“In the fashion industry, I don’t see many big Muslim fashion designers out there. The scarf is all about modesty, and I want to design cool clothing for women to feel proud of,” she said. “You can still be modest and rock that stuff, and feel like the woman you are.”