As Running Start’s 2021 Ambassador, I Want to Bring Radical Empathy Everywhere
By Tarina Ahuja
Running Start helped me find the answers to questions I have been asking since I was a little girl.
I used to question myself, my role, my belonging. As an overly excited, talkative, little girl with olive skin and long black hair that I keep as a symbol of my faith, there was something about me that always stuck out. After being called a terrorist in my first-grade classroom because of the color of my skin and faith I practice and then three years later witnessing a shooting at a gurdwara (a Sikh house of worship), I came to understand how an erosion of empathy manifests.
Running Start helped me understand what ultimately drives me as a leader and as a human being is empathy. From the moment I stepped into the High School Program, I was welcomed by a community of women from all identities and backgrounds who accepted me for my authentic self. It allowed me to become fearless and find a community in risk-taking.
More times than I can count, I’ve been told that I need to leave politics to men, told that my faith means I would never win an election, that the color of my skin will be an automatic red flag to any prospective voter. You see, these people who have questioned me and my identity come from backgrounds where prejudice might be normal. I seek to change what’s normal by channeling the power of empathy to rebuild institutions of injustice — from planning protests, to writing policies and planning human rights awareness campaigns, to ultimately amplifying the voices of those who have been silenced.
Through Running Start, I learned my empathy does not make me weak but oh so very strong, which is why I am profoundly honored to serve as the 2021 #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador. In this role, it is my deepest hope to help other young women find the answers of belonging that they might be longing for, like I once was.
So now, let me introduce myself. My name is Tarina Ahuja. I am a Sikh Punjabi woman, a lover of puns (because if you don’t like cheesy jokes you’re laugh-tose intolerant), and a radical empath.
In our current moment, the tides are turning. As historically oppressed communities are building political power and taking positions of leadership in all levels of government, we are all witnessing the critical importance and urgency of intersectional leadership.
During my tenure as Ambassador, I want to show young women — regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, faith, socioeconomic background, or anything else — that they are capable of so much more than they might realize. When living in a world that socializes us to believe that we must stay confined to simple boxes, it is up to us to punch through together to explore everything we can do and be. The true power comes when we join forces, when we support and uplift each other, creating shared success.
With this platform, I will work tirelessly to help young women understand that they not only have a voice, but a story that deserves to be shared.
Each day, each second, we are writing our own story. Politics is a story that needs more women protagonists who hold a vast array of life experiences. When these stories of power are woven together, our collective capacity for change is limitless.
Tarina Ahuja is an alum of Running Start’s 2018 High School Program, was an intern at Running Start in 2020, and currently serves as Running Start’s 2021 #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador. She is currently a sophomore at Harvard. Tarina is an immigration rights advocate. She believes in the idea of radical empathy in leadership. She co-founded the Greater Good Initiative, a youth-led policy think-tank with a mission to create sustainable, effective, and non-partisan policy solutions to the nation’s most pressing issues.