After my short forty-five minute interview with Natasha Yaqub, I left certain that I had just sat across from someone who will make an immense impact on James Madison University. Natasha, a senior International Affairs major, single handedly created a campus wide campaign against ISIS, and this is how she’s doing it.
Last summer, while interning in D.C. with the Embassy of Pakistan, Natasha heard a sound bite on the radio about the Peer 2 Peer Challenging Extremism competition. This annual competition—consisting of 25 domestic and 20 international schools—is a government initiative to combat extremist groups like ISIS. While on Capital Hill, Natasha met a staffer who was friends with a man named Tony Sgro. Coincidentally, Mr. Sgro was the founder of the competition. Yearning for more knowledge, Natasha met with Tony Sgro and expressed her desire for involvement with the competition.
Sgro introduced Natasha to the program, and expressed there was one unexpected opening for a school. As you might have predicted, Natasha landed JMU the opening spot.
Each team (usually a school) is granted $2,000 by Peer 2 Peer to create a business plan to show how they will combat extremist groups, and specifically how extremist groups recruit through social media. The neat thing about this government project is that it’s not just a theoretical competition. After creating their plan, they implement it. Each team is automatically granted the $2,000 so that they can turn their plan into a reality.
Natasha, with the help of Dr. Keith Grant, hit the ground running when she returned to JMU. The two were able to quickly pick up a lot of momentum, recruiting a strong team of 25 students ranging in majors from: Marketing, SMAD, CIS, International Affairs, Political Science, and Intelligence Analysis.
As a result, the name of the team is Momentum. Their two-track mindset, to keep building momentum and to spread kindness, is what is keeping the team pushing through.
Momentum’s plan is to build a website for an online pledge. By signing this pledge, you are vowing to show an act of kindness. Natasha chose the theme of kindness to counter the “lone wolf mentality,” which makes susceptible youth more prone to joining an extremist group like ISIS. People with this “lone wolf mentality” join extremist groups in search for a sense of belonging. Natasha believes that kindness is what’s going to prevent this, even in its most simple form.
As part of the JMU community, here’s what you can do to help. Follow this link to their website, sign the pledge, and start spreading kindness! Whether it’s holding the door for someone, “paying it forward,” or just giving someone a warm smile, any type of kindness can turn someone’s day around.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”—Ghandi.