Khaaliq Van-Otoo

In Arabic, the word “Khaaliq” is loosely translated to the verb “create.” Despite the fact that Abington Friends School senior Khaaliq Van-Otoo is a devout Christian, the Arabic translation for his name is a perfect word to describe his relationship with elements of his identity. At his core, this multifaceted teen is a creator in multiple aspects.

One of the most important things that he’s been able to do is cultivate diversity in his communities. Khaaliq is a diversity facilitator at his school and has helped organize a yearly regional diversity conference as a part of his work with the diversity program at Abington Friends.

Even though Khaaliq attributes much of his exposure to diversity to his school, being a part of a diverse environment is a value that was instilled in him as young as six years old.

Khaaliq grew up in Mount Airy. This neighborhood in Northwestern Philadelphia has been nationally recognized as one of the most racially balanced neighborhoods in the country.

However, replicating this diverse environment for his schooling was difficult for Khaaliq’s parents. Before entering middle school, Khaaliq attended two elementary schools in very different places. He briefly attended West Oak Lane Academy, a predominately African-American school, and then transferred to Garrettford Elementary School in Drexel Hill, Pa.

However, Khaaliq’s parents weren’t comfortable with their son being one of the only kids of color in the school and withdrew him from the school.

Khaaliq then found himself at Philadelphia-Montgomery Christian Academy in Springfield Township, Pa. Despite another overwhelming racial majority, Khaaliq said that Phil-Mont did a slightly better job of diversifying its student body.

Khaaliq attended Phil-Mont from third grade until seventh grade. However, by the end of seventh grade, his parents still felt that he should be exposed to a student body with many different races. His parents sent him to Abington Friends School, much to his dismay at first. But Khaaliq grew to love the school.

“The reason I actually went to AFS was because Phil-Mont was [more diverse] than my school in Drexel Hill, but that school was also a predominantly white private school,” Khaaliq said. “And something about it being a Christian school — I’m a Christian — but I felt like they were a little close-minded. I didn’t know that until I came to AFS, but I think that AFS is an amazing school, because it has exposed me to so many different cultures and so many different races.”

However, Van-Otoo isn’t just a constructor of diversity. The former Mount Pleasant Bulldogs forward is also an impressive basketball player and a catalyst for instant offense.

In his various highlight videos, number 12 can be seen dishing off beautiful passes to his teammates for points, crossing up defenders for instant offense, going into the lane for easy floaters, and speeding down the court for transition buckets.

Khaaliq has helped the Abington Friends Kangaroos achieve a winning record. However, basketball and diversity aren’t the only things that serve as creative outlets for this socially conscious teen.

Khaaliq is passionate about journalism and being able to relay information to the public. The former Amateur Athletic Union basketball player loves to write about everything from sports to social and criminal justice to poetry. Khaaliq is a talented writer and has been recognized by his school for his work.

In a bulletin posted by his school, Khaaliq turned something as simple as his senior trip into a lucid and thorough story about what being a teenager is all about. He recalled the events of this trip with such precise detail that the reader could taste and smell an autumn night in Ocean City, N.J.

Khaaliq loves to write and express his thought through poetry. In his school’s poetry club, you can find him writing poems about various things, but more times than not he is writing about social and criminal justice issues. He is passionate about fighting for these issues not just through poetry but also through conversation. He often leads tough conversations surrounding these topics in his school’s Black Student Union meetings, in meetings with his schools Diversity Program, or just in conversation with family members.

Khaaliq is the definition of a creator. His eclectic interests have given him various outlets to construct wonderful things and has opened up doors for him to continue to create.

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