The girl in the white hijab wants to be a software engineer.
She holds a microphone and stands before a group at Mr Steak on Atlantic and Indiana Avenues. She raises her voice to be heard above the air conditioning and the chattering kids and parents packed around every table in the restaurant.
“I get inspired by so many female role models and grow more optimistic – they remind me that someday I can become what I dream to be,” she says, finishing her speech and handing over the microphone.
Mardiha is 11 and a student at Richmond Avenue School, one of two Atlantic City schools that pools students from the most diverse census tract in the state.
She’s one of about two dozen children, from second graders to 10th graders, who take turns standing at the front of the restaurant, where cheesesteaks and goat biryani share menu space, and which serves a gathering spot for the Bangladeshi community. It is also just a couple of doors down from one of the city’s more popular drug-dealing corners. (As families arrive at the restaurant this weekday evening in July, an ambulance and two police patrol cars are responding to a call to the corner.)
Mardiha hands the microphone over to Saeed Duha, community organizer and editor of The Kak Atlantic. Duha, with the help of two Stockton University students, is trying to select a delegation of Atlantic County Bangladeshi students to attend the United Nations DPI/NGO (Department of Public Information/Non Governmental Organizations) conference.
The children take turns standing at the front of the restaurant and speaking in public. Most talk about themselves – their favorite subjects at school, their goals and aspirations – and some perform. There is a grade-school saxophonist and an artist. Their parents proudly snap pictures on their phones.
Duha organized a similar event last year. It was well attended by candidates for Atlantic City council (including winning mayoral candidate Frank Gilliam) hoping to win some votes from the Bangladeshi community. Mayor Gilliam, still a ways away from a re-election campaign, did not show this year.
This year, Duha selects Mardiha and five other students to travel to New York for the conference – tagline “Together Finding Global Solutions For Global Problems – in August. They were featured (bottom right) in a UN tweet:
— United Nations (@UN) August 24, 2018
A small, powerful slice of Atlantic County on the world stage.
You can read more about the UN trip at The Kak Atlantic.