Layla E. is an incoming college freshman and young social activist writer. Her writing ranges from newspaper articles to slam poetry, as well as a blog where she accounts her personal struggle with weight gain: http://donotfearyourvoice.blogspot.com/2016/07/becoming-one-with-flowersand-myself.html. With her writing, Layla wants to share her thoughts and opinions on the social injustices marginalized groups experience, as well as her own personal accounts. Layla desires to use her voice to speak out against cruelty against people – and hopes to reach an audience that will listen to her important points and hopefully provide people with a new outlook on a situation. She wants to educate and inform others on many issues that most people are unknowledgeable on. Her writing mostly takes a spoken word/slam poetry approach as she desires to use beautiful and creative language to get a powerful point across. She is truly an inspiring young woman. She is a writer for the people.
What inspires you to write about the subjects you choose to address in your poetry, blog posts, and articles?
In middle school the whole reason I started writing changed. In the sixth grade, I got an Instagram account; I don’t know how it happened but my Instagram account kind of – I didn’t follow anyone I knew in real life I somehow ended up in this community of people with like mental health illnesses and eating disorders. I was reading a lot of stories and hearing a lot of things. That stuff is so toxic for somebody – but these people had each other to rely on. I knew that a lot of their stories were voiceless – I initially started writing to make them feel better and less alone. That is what started it, that was my first poem outside of school – it was for one of those kids I was talking to (on Instagram). It was a really dumb but cute poem. And now, the things I write does talk about eating disorders, or mental illness because I’m still very impacted by what I had heard of or read back then. Even though I don’t run that Instagram account anymore and I don’t really know what happened to it, because, you know, I just needed to step back.
Do you feel what you see on social media influence the subjects that you write about?
Definitely! I know one of the most recent things I wrote was based off of what was happening in Syria. I was really upset about it. Also, at the same time, I can’t force myself to write something for someone and have it come out as genuinely me. I have to write something for myself. Sometimes I want to write about things, but I can’t get myself to do it. For example, I wanted to write about what happened with that lady who harassed me in the street, but every time I tried to get into it, I-I hated what I was writing because I couldn’t express what I was feeling, plus I didn’t want to give her a voice because it wasn’t worth it. It was only until the very recently at the Adelphi poetry conference that I wrote about her and only because we were writing from a different perspective and I wrote mine from the perspective of Islamaphobia and I took her and I did that. Beforehand, I couldn’t do it, you know what I mean? But when I see stuff on social media and in the media I do feel impacted and do think it does impact my writing to an extent about like how angry I am or what I want to write about or themes I’m thinking of incorporating. Definitely themes I want to incorporate. Some of the language I use is definitely impacted by that. I don’t know if you read my poem, but it’s called Anorexic Hijabi and it basically – it exemplifies everything that I’m saying right now because I talk about an eating disorder which is something I had a lot of exposure to in the past, but it also talks about – I also use language that I read online that people used like to bash Muslims and stuff, so there’s that aspect of it.
Referring to your blog, that was shared on Facebook, because of how personal it was, how did you overcome the fear of sharing it with others online?
I guess like – I didn’t really think anyone would see it or care, sharing it with you I didn’t care because we’re friends, but I wrote it because when I was going through all of that, I never saw anything that talked about it that made me feel comforted so I was like I don’t care I’m just going to deal with this. At this point in my life, I really don’t care what the people in my school think of me, or what they think of the things I do or the decisions I make because they ultimately are not living my life and their acceptance is something that is so momentary. It took me a really long time to understand that. I don’t need the approval of others to just continue on being myself. Yeah, that’s basically why I did it because I- looking back into what I’ve done in the past, there’s so much I regret because I just never gave myself a chance to be me. The person I was, was okay enough to be appreciated by others and it was so useless. I am not about to change so I can become friends with somebody else and I’m not about to put more effort into pleasing somebody if it’s going to take away from me. I’ve spent a long time being miserable about myself that I was just very done with that feeling, and I was done with all the other perspective people had (about me) and what they thought about me, and that’s why I shared it and posted it. It’s something like, it means a lot to me because I’ve seen the impact of language against like gaining weight and the culture around it that it was upsetting. I just wanted to say something about it and I didn’t really care if anybody saw it. That was a big reason why I wasn’t afraid of sharing it and stuff. In the end, I ultimately don’t care if- about fame or whatever. I just care that one person read what I wrote and my writing can help them.
When you share things on Facebook articles about specific things, things like what Muslim people endure, and you share it with a predominately Jewish friends list (as the majority of our high school is Jewish), how do you overcome the fear of someone kind of disagreeing with you or counteracting what you have to say?
That’s a really good question. I don’t know if you remember this, but in August of 2015, I believe, there was this big bombing against the Palestinians and I was so upset. I had just gotten Facebook at that point and I was so ready to start talking about it, and my mom was like “Layla wait, be cautious, you shouldn’t be doing this”, and I was like “why?” and she responded, “look at the people who surround you”, and I was like “so what?”. I -I have things to say and I want people to hear me while I’m saying it. Being- you know what it is? If I live my life being scared of what other people have to say then I’m not living. I-I’m not – there are people in my school who don’t like me because of the way I look or my background, but being around them has opened up my perspective and my understanding of other people and Jewish people in particular because not a lot of people get to have that background. I remember I was talking to an someone who is Egyptian, and they asked “aren’t you afraid living where you do?” and I was like “No! Of course not! Jewish people don’t hate you, some may just not understand you, they don’t understand your perspective until you start talking to them”. I feel like a lot of people who are afraid of Islam don’t actually know any Muslims to actually base their fears off of it. They just hear what’s being said – I’m on Facebook and I see an article and I share it – I’m sharing it because I want people to at least give it a chance and read it. Obviously, sometimes I think maybe I shouldn’t share this – it’s too much, but what defines too much? I see people sharing things supporting IDF and the establishment and Zionism, so I don’t see why I should be limited in what I have to share. We both have our perspectives and I’ve been able to have really nice discussions about the whole issue with people because I have opened up my opinions. I’m not particularly afraid of it anymore – I share these articles so people can read them and understand there’s more to the Muslim narrative than what’s being said by the general media. There’s more behind it.
What is it that you want to accomplish with your writing especially when it’s online or to an audience?
I just want to say what’s inside me. I’m expressing what I feel and I’m giving a voice to myself as well as other people, that’s what I’m writing for. Sometimes I don’t write with a specific goal and other times I do. You can touch the hearts of so many people who may not have experienced the same thing you have, and that’s what I’m writing for. I’m writing for myself, just to take the words that are wrapped around my heart, and I’m also writing to – I feel like I should be expressing what I have to say and I have this duty onto myself to do so.
Being a young activist, do you feel that your writing is a form of activism whether you’re sharing it online or performing your poetry in front of other people?
I do. I think writing is definitely a form of activism, especially if – I think writing is one of the best ways to send a message across to anybody. When it’s spoken or shared online it’s definitely more powerful than a piece written on paper. When you’re reading someone’s piece on a war that night be happening, or a mental illness they might have and stuff like that, they’re informing you and you’re becoming a more informed person in the process, you’re learning. That in it of itself makes that person an activist for the cause that they wrote about and shared. When you’re writing about something personal, it’s really hard to share it with other people, so they are also growing as people.