I am a Muslim American, and I don’t belong here.

For the all four years of high school, these are the words fellow classmates, teammates, and even random passersby have tried to lead me to believe. I’ve been called an outsider and a terrorist, been told that I don’t fit in and to go back to my own country.

I wasn’t alone. Like many other youth in this country––Muslim or not––I was at risk of falling into a lifestyle that popular culture called “cool” and described as “living life.” As a member of the football team, I easily could have decided to follow the crowd and be someone who I knew I was not. Many of my teammates and classmates tried to pull me in.

Thankfully, midway through my junior year, I chaired three of MYNA’s, national leadership camps and served over 300 youth as a result. I saw what it meant for someone who was lost to find their way. I saw youth begin to feel like they are a part of something big, feel the courage they needed to feel and be proud of their Muslim identities.

When I returned to my community, I decided I wanted to make it what it should have been: home. I wanted it to be a place where people felt safe, a community in which guys and girls like me––struggling to find a place as both a Muslim and an American without losing their true identities––would confide in. With the help of a few adults, I restarted a youth group that had gone off the radar. I assisted in bringing the community together for an event at least once a month, and, eventually, I was able to reach out to many more to attend the MYNA retreats I was able to attend, hoping to build in them the desire to change and grow that had been built inside of me.

I find myself reflecting on my first MYNA experience often, describing my emotions in one word: thankful. I was thankful that I was put in the position to be not only at that first camp, but to be with the organization in the first place. In my mind, there is no possibility of it being a coincidence. I was meant to be there, meant to learn the things I learned, be moved the way I was moved, and change the way I changed. MYNA has helped me make a 180-degree turn in my life, turning me from someone who was focused on just football to a more well-rounded student and activist, from someone who could have easily fallen into peer pressure and bad influences to someone who knew his priorities and confidently said no.