CHAMPAIGN – Yousif Radeef's mission at Parkland College and in the community is to show by example how Muslims want to live in peace with their neighbors.
Radeef, 19, who was born in Baghdad, said he has encountered discrimination since he came to Champaign with his family in 2004, and he said those experiences made him even more determined to give the Muslim community a positive image.
"I meet people and when they say stuff, I ignore it," he said. "I don't blame them. I want our people to have a peaceful image."
He started a Muslim Student Association last year to unite other students and get them involved in his campaign. The association will hold a conference at 6 p.m. today in Parkland's Flag Lounge with three guest speakers who will talk about Islam denouncing terrorism. Radeef, who is president of the association, said non-Muslim students and others are invited to the conference to ask questions about the topic.
In late April, the association will also hold a run on campus to raise money for Habitat for Humanity.
"The only reason I got involved in so many things is to establish credibility as a Muslim," Radeef said. "I want to convince people that what they hear about Muslims isn't right. We want people to see us involved in positive activities."
Radeef knew little English when he came to Champaign with his family. His father, a professor, had taken the family in 1997 to Jordan for four years and then to the United Arab Emirates for three years before they came to Champaign in 2004.
Radeef's parents have since returned to the United Arab Emirates, but he said many family members remain in Iraq, and some have died there, something Radeef has trouble talking about.
He said Central High School teacher Darren Plattner and students helped him learn English during the year. Radeef graduated in the top 10 percent of his class, and Parkland counselor Mary Kay Smith offered him a full scholarship to attend Parkland.
"I invited him to be a student ambassador, and he showed up in August asking what he needed to do," Smith said. "He's willing to step off in new directions, to go out and try new things. He really felt like he wanted to get involved in the college experience. He became a student worker in admissions. He spends a lot of time at activities."
Radeef said he picked Parkland because he had just arrived in the U.S. his senior year and didn't know the college application system. He said Parkland has been an excellent experience because students there come from all over the area and the world, and they take each other at face value.
"I wish I could stay here longer," Radeef said.
He plans to transfer to the University of Illinois to study biochemistry. Although he's not positive about his future profession, Radeef's currently interested in attending dental school to become an oral surgeon.
Radeef was also recently elected to the All -USA Academic Team, one of two Parkland students to earn that national honor. His grade point average: 3.96.
Radeef is also involved with student government and he's an officer of Phi Theta Kappa, a national honorary for students at two-year colleges.
The Phi Theta Kappa connection put Radeef in contact with Robert Exley, Parkland's new president who was formerly a national officer of that organization. Radeef said Exley urged him to run for national office, something he plans to do in April.
He said he's learned a lot from the people he's met at Parkland and in the community. Radeef said he'll finish his university and professional training in the U.S. and then take a look at the situation in Iraq and decide whether to return.
"I'm just trying to do the best I can," he said. "I might go back if the situation allows. I think the people there will need me more there than the people here do."