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By Marlon Ramtahal

Growing up in Huntley, Illinois, Hiam Hafizuddin always had a passion for diversity and positive social and cultural change.

A finalist for Miss World America, the Bangladeshi-American college student believes that prejudice is learned at an early age and wants to teach elementary school students cultural competency and how it is okay to be who they are using games and activities.

“Understanding people and their differences and customs is the core of what cultural competency is,” Hafizuddin told NBC News. “Cultural diversity is a topic that can be spoken of in a simplistic way for children, so I just want to instill the values of humanity to them.”

One of the activities for children she's practiced is a word game: One person in the classroom would say a culture’s food — like rice — and those who eat it would come up to the person.

“What I learned from playing this game is that most students in the classroom eat rice and that just shows that these kids are more alike than what they originally thought,” Hafizuddin said.

She also wants to develop curriculum workshops for teachers so they can teach students about differences in religions, customs, values, and norms.

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The contestants for Miss World America are required to present platforms on how they hope to inspire purpose and meaning for people. “A lot of the girls focused on mental health awareness, autism awareness, or different diseases such as cancer and heart disease, but mine is something that is very abstract and plays a significance in today’s society, especially with the problems of race relations,” Hafizuddin said.

Hafizuddin founded Miss Bangladesh USA, a scholarship pageant aimed at providing Bangladeshi-American women the opportunity to create social change, promote equality education, embrace their talents, and celebrate heritage. Contestants come from across the country and are judged on their cultural attire, community involvement, and a platform speech. Hafizuddin said that since she created the pageant, she has met women who share the same values as her.

The aspiring Miss World America also enjoys learning about a wide range of topics that focus on social justice. When she graduates from her finance and media and cinema studies programs, she wants to become a filmmaker who can “subliminally encourage people to act and think in a positive way.”

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She also currently serves as the state president of Phi Beta Lambda — a professional business organization — and volunteers at the Women’s Resource Center, where she helps plan events that revolve around relationship abuse and sexual assault awareness. “Our society as a whole has to be more progressive and the more we see examples from young leaders, the better,” Hafizuddin said.

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