(NEW YORK) — Veterans and current service members are using social media to reassure Muslim Americans that they will fight for their rights as citizens.
On Facebook and Twitter, military service members and veterans have started using the hashtag #iwillprotectyou after one mother’s post went viral about her daughter’s fear of being kicked out of the country.
Melissa Chance Yassini posted about her daughter’s reaction to hearing proposals by Donald Trump to ban Muslims from entering the country.
“She had began collecting all her favorite things in a bag in case the army came to remove us from our homes,” Yassini wrote on Facebook about her daughter Sofia. “She checked the locks on the door 3-4 times. This is terrorism. No child in America deserves to feel that way.”
Yassini’s post went viral and was shared more than 20,000 times. Eventually she and her daughter told their story to The Associated Press. Kerri Peek, an Army veteran saw the story on social media and was horrified.
“I was up all night, it bothered me,” Peek told ABC News. “I’m a mom, for mother to mother … I know you want to protect your children from everything.”
Peek said she was especially upset that Sofia was worried about soldiers coming to take her away.
“What’s a way [for her] to know that soldiers are not going to come to her door,” Peek told ABC News, who eventually sent her a picture of herself in her Army uniform.
Included with the photo was a message, she said: “Here’s a picture of me as a mom and soldier and I’ll come to protect you.”
But Peek didn’t stop there, she asked her friends to continue to send Sofia messages of support. She started a hashtag, #iwillprotectyou, last Wednesday and implored other military service members and veterans on social media to pledge to protect Muslim children like Sofia from being discriminated against.
“Post a picture of you in uniform with the hashtag ‘#WillProtectYou’ to let these children know that we will not hurt them. That they are safe here in America,” she wrote on Facebook.
Peek said she has now received hundreds of messages from people who shared their fears over discrimination or who pledged to support others’ freedom of religion.
The hashtag has quickly gone viral with veterans and service members posting pictures of themselves on social media offering words of support and comfort to Sofia and other children who are Muslim.
— Elizabeth April (@Cinders09051984) December 19, 2015
Peek said she has even heard from Yassini about Sofia’s reaction to the new viral hashtag.
“She said she’s been reading the posts to her daughter and her daughter feels so much better knowing that she’s a part of America,” Peek said.
Peek says she has now set up a Facebook page for people to voice their support and hopes the group will continue to grow.
Sofia, #Iwillprotectyou, too, with voice, pen, name, sweat, and blood. I meant my oath when commissioned. I mean it now. USAR ’90-’01.
— Graham R. Scott (@graythebruce) December 19, 2015
— katie lewis (@laylamedic) December 20, 2015
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