In an effort to curb anti-Islamic sentiment and intolerance toward others, two youths from Tulsa decided to spend their break from college spreading a message of peace and acceptance.

On Saturday afternoon, about 50 people gathered at John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park to participate in the #HateFreeTulsa Peace Rally. The event was spearheaded by Booker T. Washington graduates Ishak Hossain and Farah Naqvi, both 19.

The two graduated high school together in 2014. Hossain has since moved to St. Louis to attend Washington University, and Naqvi is attending school in Norman at the University of Oklahoma.

When it came to planning what to do during winter break, Naqvi and another friend, Kendall King, considered what they view as a spread of Islamophobia throughout the United States.

At first, the two thought they would hang a banner somewhere in Tulsa promoting peace. Instead, they conjured up the idea to hold a rally, and got in touch with Hossain.

The only problem was that they had never tried to promote or organize a rally before. From there, they got in touch with members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, the Islamic Society of Tulsa, the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance, Tulsa Metropolitan Ministy and others.

“We had a message that we wanted to bring out, but we didn’t know exactly the roads to take,” Hossain said.

After months of planning, they did it. Unfortunately, King wasn’t able attend.

Either way, the crowd arrived. Hossain and Naqvi each spoke, as well as other community members who expressed viewpoints from other faiths, what it’s like to be bullied and the importance of coming together and communicating.

Hossain and Naqvi’s former social studies teacher, John Waldron, also spoke briefly, saying that it was encouraging to see the effort put forth and the turnout of youth at the event.

“Young people will redeem this community,” he said. “That’s why I’ve taught for so long — I’ve always believed in the students who came in my door, and I’ve never been disappointed in that belief.”

When Waldron was their age in the ‘80s, people tended to be more materialistic and apathetic toward politics, he said. College students often felt pessimistic about the world but optimistic about themselves, by Waldron’s account.

“I think that was a sign of our times. We thought we could separate ourselves from the times — we could be fine, even if everybody else went to hell in a hand basket,” he said. “The kids remind you that we’re all connected. Seeing these guys believe that and try to make some change and try to make an impact on the people around them is really inspirational.”

Indeed, other young people were inspired at the event. Bryna Frohock and Elizabeth Burton, both 17, and Layla Mortadha, 16, said the message of togetherness resonated with them — especially coming from former classmates.

“I would love to someday host an event that’s even bigger and even more widely advertised so we can have everyone there,” Mortadha said. “It’s really cool to see young people who I know — like, I went to school with them, we all went to school with them — just to see that they took initiative to do that is inspiring.”

Another event planned by Hossain and Naqvi in Tulsa is not likely to happen anytime soon — both are going to school outside the city now, after all. But, the message could live on, Naqvi said.

“Honestly, I think the Hate Free Tulsa hashtag thing could totally become a huge movement that goes on to the future for more events that could be used in different ways,” she said. “I would definitely be willing to do more with it in the future.”

Stacy Ryburn 918-581-8386