There are many similarities between the candidates vying for the District 5 seat on the Prince George's County (Maryland) Board of Education: they are both women, both members of minority groups, both long-term residents of the county and both highly qualified. Yet there is a key difference: Age.
Raaheela Ahmad is the 19-year-old maverick, challenging the veteran incumbent, Verjeana Jacobs.
Being young has its disadvantages. Why? Because people start assuming.
They assume that she may take unnecessary risks, or may have different values, or may not stand up to pressure. The young challenger, therefore, is painted as "inexperienced."
My experience, as a data driven professor, suggests otherwise. And that's why I am supporting Raaheela's dream.
A 2009 study conducted by the Girl Scouts of America compared the responses of youth in 1989 with a similar demographic studied in 2009. The results were revealing. Compared to 48 percent in 1989, 62 percent surveyed in 2009 said they would not cheat on a test. Compared to 46 percent in 1989, 58 percent in 2009 said they would refuse an alcoholic drink if offered one. Compared to 24 percent in 1989, 33 percent in 2009 intend to wait until they are married to have sex. Compared to 77 percent in 1989, 84 percent in 2009 intend to exercise their right to vote.
No surprise, America is increasingly embracing younger leaders in government. Aaron Schock was elected as a congressman at the age 27 while Christopher Seeley of Pennsylvania, Jeremy Minnier of Iowa, and Kyle Corbin of Oregon were all elected as Mayors of their locales at the age of 18.
As Dara Torres, the come-back-mother-Olympian-swimmer at the age of 41 said in her famous 2007 book: "Age is just a number." Mettle is what matters. And that's what District 5 should be demanding of its leaders.
With a gridlock in Washington, we need School Board leaders who can do something for the students. Raaheela Ahmad founded a club titled, "Do Something" 2 years ago.
With our youth succumbing to drugs, sex and procrastination, we need School Board leaders who understand these challenges firsthand. Raaheela Ahmad led a community organization called, "Students against destructive decisions" for 3 years.
In a glitzy world, where altruism can be a mere photo op, Raaheela Ahmad's life is studded with random acts of openly serving in free medical clinics, sincerely mentoring underprivileged students and secretly donating her scholarship to charities.
The age allegation, wrapped in the guise of "inexperience" is an old ploy. Recall that in the 2008 presidential elections, we were reminded about the 3 am phone call to the White House, hinting at the young candidate Obama's inadequate foreign policy experience. Here is the outcome of that choice: Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.
To me, the young president disproved the mantra: "Good judgment comes with experience, but experience comes from bad judgment." Today's smarts are capable of gaining experience without making huge errors of bad judgment.
Let's face it. We don't even understand -- let alone be able to solve -- many of the choices of our own children. As we scramble for our teenager's college tuition, she enrolls in Coursera and as we catch-up with her Facebook, she latches onto Instagram. We live in times where a student's "normal" is sometimes a parent's "novel." There, I believe: yesterday's leaders cannot solve tomorrow's challenges.
So let's keep the School Board of Education election in the District 5 focused over issues of ability, understanding and integrity, not age. For age is just a number.
Dr. Faheem Younus is a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He can be reached at email@example.com