Freshman Helps Develop Comic Book to Promote Social Acceptance

Photo: UC Berkeley freshman Hazma Jaka was invited to work on a comic book about a Muslim boy in a wheelchair who gains superpowers.
Michael Restrepo/Staff
UC Berkeley freshman Hazma Jaka was invited to work on a comic book about a Muslim boy in a wheelchair who gains superpowers.

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UC Berkeley freshman Hamza Jaka combined his passion for comics and promoting inclusion for people with disabilities when he was chosen to help develop a story line and characters for the production of a new comic book hero: Silver Scorpion.

Jaka, an intended linguistics major, traveled to Syria last month to collaborate with about 21 other students with disabilities from the United States and Syria - through a project sponsored by the Open Hands Initiative, a nonprofit organization created to improve international understanding and friendships - and work on the comic book based on a Muslim boy in a wheelchair who gains superpowers.

The 18-year-old, who jokingly describes himself as a "huge nerd," is from Fontana, a small town in Wisconsin. He said he has been advocating for rights for people with disabilities since he was born by supporting various events but that he has gotten more involved since high school.

Seven months ago, Jaka traveled to Pakistan to work on a nonprofit aid project for Southeast Asians with disabilities.

He is also the co-chair of a nationwide disability rights group for youth, which is how he got involved in the comic book business.

"I replied to an application sent out from my boss about the program and thought it would be fun," Jaka said.

He said the program was perfect for him because it incorporated his love for comics - he said he owns nearly every issue of Spider-Man - as well as his desire to advocate for disabled students around the world.

Jaka said the experience he had in Syria brought people from different ethnicities and religions together. He said he and the students were not at all worried about Middle Eastern controversies that occupy the minds of many in the United States. Instead, he said all of the students were just happy to be a part of something so influential.

"Hopefully we can make an impact on people's lives and perceptions they have of people with disabilities and people in the Muslim world," Jaka said.

Jaka is now vice president of the Disabled Students Union at UC Berkeley and hopes to focus more on external affairs and outreach by advocating for the rights and the social inclusion of people with disabilities through the union.

"Berkeley is really the cradle of the disabilities rights movement," he said. "That is one of the reasons why I came to Berkeley. A lot of what we have today is due to the efforts of people in Berkeley, and it is something that I want to be a part of."

He said he hopes to develop a Syrian parent and student support network to connect with American families and that he wants to travel back to Syria soon to reunite with his newfound friends. He also wants to travel to places like China, Japan and South America to promote his cause.

"I hope to see comics in my future, but I do not know if I will be getting any calls from Marvel or DC anytime soon. I want to be a criminal attorney," Jaka said. "But, there are still people that need help, and as long as people need help, I will be there."

Jeffrey Butterfield of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Contact Jasmine Mausner at [email protected]

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