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Ala Mohamed: “It could have been any of us in that moment.”

October 19, 2021

Ala Mohamed said protesting in Iowa City in summer 2020 and helping to found the Iowa Freedom Riders was “not the first rodeo” she or fellow Iowa Freedom Riders founder Raneem Hamad had experienced.

During her senior year at Iowa City West High School, Mohamed said incidents of discrimination occurred, resulting in her and Hamad creating Students Against Discrimination and Hate. The group organized sit-ins and rallies, and even spoke to The View and the New York Times.

Marching through Iowa City’s streets was not a new experience either, Mohamed said, as she and Hamad joined City and West High students in a March Against Discrimination and Hate in 2016.

She added that because they went through a similar situation before, choosing to speak out in summer 2020 wasn’t difficult.

“It wasn’t really like, ‘hey, should we march or not?’” she said. “It was like, ‘hey, you ready? We’re ready.’ Like, we knew what we had to do. It wasn’t, like, our calling, but it was something we felt like we needed to do.”

When the video of George Floyd’s murder began circulating on social media, Mohamed said she didn’t even attempt to watch it. She said it was very traumatizing just from hearing conversations and seeing images of the violence on social media.

She said what happened with Floyd proved that it was not just an isolated incident — it affected everyone.

“It’s not just a one-person problem, it’s all of us,” she said. “We all see ourselves. It could have been any of us in that moment, is what I’m trying to say… it’s been 400 years and we’re continuing to fight this battle. Why are we continuing to fight this battle?”


During the protests and discussions with local institutions, Mohamed found it difficult to balance personal grieving with public activism. Mohamed, who said she suffers from severe anxiety and depression, wanted to find a bright spot despite living during a dark time period.

“Through that lens, you have to find some sort of happiness, some sort of peace,” she said. “And we tried to find joy within our movement, when we would sing and when we would dance and when we would protest… but it’s hard, especially as a Black person, knowing that I am a constant target.”

As protest energy died down, Mohamed said the organization has shifted its gaze away from trying to influence the Iowa City City Council and Johnson County Supervisors, and instead focused on the community.

Mohamed herself has taken a step back from the Iowa Freedom Riders, she said, to focus on her last year of college and plan her future. She said in comparing her activism during high school to her activism now, she has been able to find her voice.

She added that her leadership position in IFR taught her a lot about where she wants to go from here, but she felt like it was time to allow others to express themselves through IFR.

“It was a very, very meaningful experience. I loved every moment of it,” she said. “It taught me a lot, and it gave me a lot of information, a lot of knowledge, a lot of things to ponder and look at different ways to look at the world, which I didn’t view before.”

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