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By Jordan Huang
East Chapel Hill High School ‘24

Marwan Arafa uses his organizational skills to help people.

Arafa, a 17-year-old high school student from Cary, is a lifelong Muslim and first generation immigrant.  From spearheading statewide food drives to giving back to his local animal shelter, Arafa looks to make a difference in any way he can.

“These events won’t organize themselves,” Arafa said. “If you want to make a difference in your community, you have to go out and do it.”

Arafa is president of his local Muslim Student Association and founded the Arabic Language Club at Cary High School. Notably, Arafa has played a role in organizing large-scale gatherings of 4,000 to 10,000 people for the Islamic Association of Raleigh (IAR), the Southeast’s largest mosque.

This spring, Arafa helped organize a festival and prayer session for Eid al-Fitr, a three-day holiday that marks the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan. With a combined attendance of 14,000 people between the two events, he had to face the inherent challenges of being pulled in multiple directions at once during the festivities. Regardless, Arafa confronted the chaos head-on and kept a cool head while guiding other volunteers and attendees.

True change emanates from within communities, he said, and he steps up when needed because he recognizes the importance the mosque holds for the region’s Muslims. Arafa appreciates the transformative potential of cultural exchange, community interactions and effective dialogue to address societal issues.

“A simple conversation has the capacity to solve many problems and dismantle barriers, especially in a country as diverse as the United States,” Arafa said. “By uplifting my community and amplifying their voices, I can foster more of these conversations and create a better future.”

Recognizing the limitations and biases inherent in mainstream news coverage, Arafa understands that the conversations he wants to have won’t simply happen on their own. As a journalist and staff writer for his school paper, he aims to illuminate the stories and issues that escape the attention of traditional news.

“Consider the Titan submarine story,” Arafa said. “Only a few days before that incident, a ship sank in the Mediterranean with 750 refugees, 100 of them being children. Hundreds of children drowned, but people don’t want to talk about that.”

Arafa most recently chose to write about the floods ravaging Pakistan in order to give students of privilege a more nuanced worldview.

Additionally, Arafa’s commitment to service extends beyond his involvement with the IAR. He constructs picnic tables for the local animal shelter. Furthermore, he spearheads the Our Three Winners food drive campaign, inspired by the altruistic actions of three Muslim students shot to death in 2015. The campaign provided 80,000 meals to North Carolinians in need over the last two years.

Upon completing high school, he aspires to pursue a career in law or politics.

“I firmly believe that I can make a positive impact on anyone,” Arafa said. “Wherever I go, I aim to leave my mark and facilitate positive change.”