SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Four South Plainfield High School (SPHS) students were recognized Tuesday for their actions and efforts for social justice.
Tala Abdeljaber. Hailey Medina, Simran Modhera, and Jade Scotti, all members of the Class of 2018, each received $1,000 from the Ionracas Deontas fund for their support of gun control and school safety and for leading their school’s Women’s March Youth EMPOWER National “March for Our Lives’ Student Walkout.
“For someone to do this for these kids. That is so nice,” said Abdeljaber’s mom Elham. “It actually encourages them to follow their dreams and stand up for what they believe in.”
Ionracas Deontas is a Gaelic phrase meaning ‘integrity’ and ‘gift (or grant) with purpose’ and is the name of the fund established to promote important public efforts. The monetary award and an official certificate were rewarded by an anonymous South Plainfield donor and presented in solidarity with the Poor Peoples Campaign and in conjunction with the Moral Mondays movement. Walter Kalman, president/CEO of the McKallyn Group, served as the facilitator of the awards, presenting them to Abdeljaber. Medina, Modhera, and Scotti at an informal event held June 12 just off the grounds of South Plainfield High School.
To the anonymous donor, Modhera said, “Thank you for recognizing our efforts … It is touching for someone to hear about it and go out of their way to reward us. It is such a gracious offering.”
“This shows that the community is standing with us; there were so many people against it for some reason,” Abdeljaber, one of the organizers of the March 14 walkout, told TAPinto South Plainfield. “Here’s a complete stranger who wanted to do something…that really meant a lot because it shows that the community are standing with us.”
According to Kalman, the purpose of the award is to reward the strength of character of the students for following their convictions despite the awareness of the potential consequences; encourage the recipients to continue to follow their consciences in service to others; and recognize their leadership in carrying out a cause that motivates others to greater service to the community.
“This award was really stimulated by [the student’s] actions] and our donor felt they should be rewarded,” said Kalman. “The idea was to for this to be a gift – not a scholarship – to reward these students for what they have already done in the hopes that they will continue to be dedicated to community service.”
Working together to organize the walkout, the four high school seniors garnered support from their classmates and, on the morning of March 14, close to 90 SPHSstudents walked out of the school building in an effort to raise awareness of the need for gun reform in the United States. Held on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, FL school shooting, the protest lasted just about 17 minutes – one minute for each of the victims killed at Marjory StonemanDouglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.
“I come from a family where we talk about what we believe in and stand up for things like this,” said Abdeljaber when asked what made her organize the walkout. “I feel like if you want change you have to speak and you have to demand it…the hope is that, in time, things will change.”
Modhera said it was her peers in Parkland who, not long after the tragedy, joined together to work toward change and demand action that led her to join the local movement. “My peers there inspired me to want to take action. I have siblings going through this school system as well in other parts of the country and I want to insure this is a safe place for them to be,” Modhera said, adding, “Parkland inspired me to want to take action and working with these girls kind of helped us fuel this little revolution here.”
The walkout, said Medina, was a way for them to express their desire for stricter gun control and safer schools. “I was tired of the whole ‘thoughts and prayers’ thing. Everyone was complaining about [gun violence] but nothing was actually being done,” she said. “I feel if you aren’t out there trying to do something about it and trying to change it then you don't have the right to complain about it. I just felt it was time for the younger generation to do something about it because no one else was.”
Scotti added, “There is just shooting after shooting and nothing changes. Holding a walkout at a high school brings attention to it; we are the victims. Bringing [students] together who feel the same about such a serious matter draws more attention to it than if an adult was talking about it.”
Following the walkout, those students who participated were issued either a Saturday detention or an in-school suspension - the suspension was removed from their permanent record if a parent/guardian submitted a letter to the superintendent. Additionally, in the weeks leading up to the walkout and right around the time it took place, the community was split, with those for and against the movement taking to social media to voice their positions.
“A lot of people don't understand the meaning behind it. They feel we are trying to strip their rights away when, in reality, it is more about safety than the constitution,” said Scotti, adding that she hopes one day soon things will change. “If people continue to show support and hold walkouts like we did it will draw more attention to the issue and then, hopefully, one day, we will have stricter gun control.”
Following graduation on June 22, Abdeljaber plans to travel and work on music; Medina will attend Middlesex Community College in the fall to study public relations and screenwriting; Modhera plans to study filmmaking at the Savannah College of Art & Design; and Scotti will major in international finance and marketing at the University of Miami.
“I am just so proud of all of them …” said Medina’s mom Judy. “These are very strong willed, strong-minded young ladies who are going to do amazing things wherever they go and whatever they do.”
“We are proud and they are doing things, these young children, that the people in D.C. should be taking care of,” added Abdeljaber’s father Munid.
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