This article was published on the Diller Foundation blog 3/17/22.
Minnah founded EMPOWERU, an initiative to educate students on consent, safety, and Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. Since being selected as a recipient of the Tikkun Olam Award at age 17 in 2018, she graduated summa cum laude from Florida State University (FSU) with a Bachelor of Science in Communications and Digital Media with minors in Film Studies and Business.
What have you been up to since receiving the Diller Tikkun Olam Award in 2018?
Diller helped me expand my areas of interests into Jewish spaces, celebrating the crossroad of Judaism and activism. Since winning the Tikkun Olam Award, I have tried to always think about how my Jewish identity influences my studies and my work.
I was invited to participate in the FSU Honors Thesis program. There is no Jewish Film Studies class at FSU, so I used my thesis as an opportunity to explore how film and television intersect with Judaism. My published thesis is titled Representation of Jews in the Media: An Analysis of Old Hollywood Stereotypes Perpetuated in Modern Television. Writing this thesis was a really great opportunity for me to explore the ways in which Jewish stereotypes are ingrained into everything including the television we watch. What I found out through my research shocked me in many ways. It’s upsetting to see how Jews are still reduced to loud, overbearing, bratty, rich, nervous, caricatures in a lot of popular television shows on right now, but it is also great to see how young new Jewish content creators are working to change this.
After graduating, I continued my interest in film by starting a film podcast with my friend and mentor Lauren Lloyd. It’s called The Movies That Made Her…But Not Me. Lauren has been a Hollywood power broker for over 35 years and is a former Executive Vice President at Hollywood Pictures and Tristar Sony Pictures Entertainment. Her insight she shares on the podcast is always insightful and highly entertaining. Because we are from two generations, how we interpret movies is sometimes very different. We decided to use the podcast to explore how generational perspectives influence how we interpret and enjoy movies.
Have there been any updates with your project?
My community action program EMPOWERU revolved around education on the facts of sexual assault and harassment in middle and high school. The program was adopted by my school district, potentially reaching 40,000 students annually. When I went to college, there was an opportunity to make the same kind of difference in a new community. I joined the kNOw MORE advisory board where I planned and held events on campus centered around ending power-based personal violence for FSU students. I held a screening of It Happened Here and hosted a panel with FSU leadership including fraternity leadership, the Title IX officer, the student body president, and more. Our group was also involved in Title IX decisions when Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education gutted Title IX and left it up to colleges to decide how they were going to handle reports of sexual assault and harassment. We educated college students on stalking, consent, their rights under Title IX, and an array of other power-based personal violence issues.
I made the decision to dissolve EMPOWERU in early 2022, as I no longer felt it was a necessary vehicle for my activism. I have continued my work with Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS). I have served on its advisory board since 2015. I worked with SSAIS on a partnership with the ACLU to take on the Department of Education for their decision to take away protection for students. I was honored to be a part of their promotional material and featured in the video that came out on the 48th anniversary of Title IX.
As part of my work with SSAIS, I helped launch the national Students Against Sexual Harassment (SASH) Club for high school students. SASH Club is a new, national youth peer-to-peer education and prevention project targeting the problem of youth sexual harassment and assault. They provide resources and structure to high school students wanting to address the epidemic of sexual harassment at their school and in their community. As part of the launch team, I helped with website design, writing curriculum, and creating easy-to-use content to engage high school students on topics that are tricky to talk about.
#METOOk12 celebrated its four-year anniversary this past year. As the #METOO movement garnered media attention, SSAIS started the #METOOK12 movement to highlight the sexual assault and harassment that happens in secondary school. For the past four years, this campaign has promoted awareness and inspired action to counteract pervasive sexual harassment and sexual violence in K-12 schools.
What advice do you have for teens who are thinking about applying for the Tikkun Olam Awards?
The best advice I can offer hopeful Awardees is to start the application early! The application is a lot of work, but you shouldn’t let that intimidate you. I also recommend you ask someone familiar with your work to look over your application to make sure you’re doing a good job explaining your project.
The other piece of advice I would give is don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the award the first time you apply for it. If you don’t get it, you can always apply again the next year. I applied twice before I won. In that year between applications, my project had changed and grown so much. The most important thing is to keep doing your work and know that no matter what, your work matters and it is valued.
How has receiving the Tikkun Olam Award helped prepare you for your future?
Creating my project that won the Tikkun Olam Award required me to take entrepreneurial initiative. My project was based off of the idea that sexual assault and harassment were going unaddressed in my community — specifically, in schools. I decided to be the first to take on the issue and provide education to students. But to get this done, I had to approach administrative leadership, my school board, create curriculum to teach students, and organize educational events. The Diller Tikkun Olam Award provided validation of my entrepreneurship. The award provided a confidence boost that I was an entrepreneur who built something that had a meaningful impact. This validation instilled confidence that has led me to continue to grow, adapt, and expand my project and also to take my love of film and turn it into an opportunity to build something else that has an impact. The Diller Tikkun Olam Award inspired me to believe in my abilities and to not be afraid to start new and different projects like The Movies That Made Her…But Not Me.
What is your favorite memory of your experience with the Tikkun Olam Awards?
Shabbat is always my favorite time of the week. I have so many fond memories of braiding challahs with my mom for Shabbat dinner, sitting down with my whole family to light Shabbat candles, and sharing a good meal at the end of a long week. However, one of the most memorable Shabbats I have ever had was not with my family. It was with my fellow Tikkun Olam awardees. At the awardee retreat, we sat outside on Friday evening on blankets as the sun set. We said the prayers, told stories, ate together, and used the evening to bond and get to know each other. It is something I am reminded of every Friday night. I am so grateful for this experience and every experience I’ve had with the Diller Foundation. It has given me a great Jewish community that I’ve been able to share Shabbat and so many other traditions with.