SPEAKER 1: Good evening. We welcome all of you to Sage Chapel, where spirit and intellect meet, to Cornell's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. commemoration. Cornell United Religious Work, the umbrella organization for campus religious life, spearheads the organization of this annual event in conjunction with several campus and community organizations, all of which are listed on the front of your program.
This is my version of a pop quiz. Tell me, by show of hands, how many of you have been involved in organizations that have cosponsored programs with CURW? Thank you. How many of you have, before tonight, attended programs in Anabel Taylor Hall or Sage Chapel? Really good show of hands. How many of you have held meetings or been invited to attend meetings at Anabel Taylor Hall? I'm trying to work through these lights here. How many of you chaplains, past and present, of CURW, are here? How many of you, in your college years-- I'm speaking specifically to students past as well as alumni-- have had discussions about the meaning of life during your years here?
--particularly as prelims loomed.
How many of you have talked about and wrestled with notions of career versus vocation at some point in your college years? How many of you have participated in CURW service projects?
Your responses, and at least as I counted the hands, which really covered a broad spectrum of our audience tonight, reflects either the direct impact or the implication of the work that CURW has fostered, facilitated, supported, or organized since 1929, when it became the first intentionally interfaith and multifaith organization on a major US campus. I use interfaith and multifaith alternately, thanks to a conversation with Dr. Patel earlier this evening. So if you want to know about the interrelated yet distinct meanings of those terms, talk to him after tonight's program.
And so one of the things that we have done and we have been charged to do since 1999 has been to organize Cornell's annual King commemoration. The King commemoration is a public-based, campus-based forum that makes accessible the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. for contemporary times. We schedule the commemoration in February, following the federally-recognized holiday honoring Dr. King, because spring semester classes here either begin on the day of the holiday, the third Monday in January, or sometime thereafter. But February 2 is also the occasion of Black History Month. Hence, this February celebration is an apt time to acknowledge King's grounding in the African-American experience, his significant contributions to its ongoing struggle for racial justice, the manner in which that struggle was linked to global struggles for economic justice and peace, and how these efforts inspired movements in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s for free speech, Women's Rights, Gay Rights, and the contemporary interfaith and multifaith youth movement.
Dr. King led not only the most effective multiracial coalition for social justice in the 20th century, but also the most successful multifaith campaign of the 20th century. He brought together persons of diverse faith communities and those of secular orientation to address racism, poverty, war, militarism, and imperialism. He sought to create a broadly pluralistic society and world, what he called the beloved community, inclusive of but not limited to black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu, as he wrote in his last book, Where Do We Go from Here-- Chaos or Community? that must somehow learn to live with one another in peace.
As I mentioned, the quote that I read comes from Dr. King's final book, Where Do We Go from Here-- Chaos or Community? written in 1967, which has been the reading for the Ithaca community's Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Build, which is one of our cosponsoring units. This year's King commemoration speaker is a rising star on the global interfaith scene, Dr. Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Corps in Chicago. Dr. Patel's work is what I would call a prophetic figure, one who looks to and discerns his times to see where those times will lead. Has been important and relevant work. And he will be introduced to us in more formal detail by Ali Hussain, class of 2011.
The inclusivity to which Dr. Patel is committed is reflected by the fact that he, a Muslim, is speaking to commemorate an individual whose broad pluralism was rooted in his understanding of the Christian Gospel. And it is also reflected in the fact that Dr. Patel speaks tonight on what is the 46th anniversary of the death of Malcolm X, a fellow Muslim, who, like King, linked the black freedom struggle of the 1950s and '60s to human rights movements worldwide, and toward his life's end was willing to work across faith and racial lines with those who shared his commitments.
We will now continue on in on our program with music from the Chosen Generation Gospel Choir.
[STEPPING AND SNAPPING FINGERS IN UNISON]
ALL: (SINGING) Ride on, King Jesus, no man can hinder thee. Ride on, King Jesus, ride on. No man can a hinder thee. No man can a hinder thee. No man. No man can a hinder thee. No man can a hinder thee.
Ride on, King Jesus. No man-- no man can a hinder thee. Ride on, King Jesus, ride on. No man can a hinder thee. No man can a hinder thee. No man-- no man can a hinder thee. No man can a hinder thee.
In that greatness of morning, fare thee well, fare thee well. In that greatness of morning, fare the well, fare the well. In that greatness of morning fare the well, fare the well. In that greatness of morning, fare thee well, fare thee well.
In that greatness of morning, fare thee well, fare thee well. In that greatness of morning, fare thee well, fare thee well. In that greatness of morning, fare thee well, fare thee well. In that greatness of morning, fare thee well, fare thee well.
When I get to Heaven, gonna wear a robe. No man can a hinder me. When I get to heaven-- when I get to heaven, gonna wear a robe. No man can a hinder me.
Gonna speak-- gonna see King Jesus sitting on a throne. No man can a hinder thee. Gonna see-- gonna see King Jesus sitting on a throne. No man can a hinder me.
Gonna walk-- gonna walk all over those streets of gold. No man can a hinder me. Gonna walk-- gonna walk all over those streets of gold. No man can a hinder thee. No man can a hinder me. No man can a hinder me. Ooh ooh, ooh-ooh ooh ooh ooh. Ooh-ooh-ooh ooh, ooh-ooh ooh-ooh ooh.
Eh-- eh-eh-eh eh, eh-eh eh-eh eh. eh-eh-eh eh, eh-eh eh-eh eh.
Ee-- ee-ee-ee ee, ee-ee ee-ee ee. Ee-ee-ee ee, ee-ee ee-ee ee.
Aye-- aye-aye-aye aye, aye-aye aye-aye aye. Aye-aye-aye aye, aye-uh aye-aye aye.
Ooh-ooh-ooh ooh, ooh-ooh ooh-ooh ooh. Ooh-ooh-ooh ooh, ooh-ooh ooh-ooh ooh.
Mm, good-- mm-good, mm-mm mm-mm-mm good. Mm-good, mm-mm
Ride on-- ride on, King Jesus.
1, 2 I will bless the Lord. Oh my soul. Oh my soul. And all that is within me bless His holy name.
I will bless the Lord. Oh my soul-- oh my soul. And all-- and all that is within me bless His holy name.
Hallelujah. Woo. Hallelujah. Woo-hoo. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Woo. Hallelujah. Oh, [INAUDIBLE]. Hallelu-- you say--
Lord, you're working-- on the glory-- on the glory-- and the honor-- and the honor. Hallelu-- hallelu. I can't stop praising. I can't stop praising. I can't stop dancing. I can't stop dancing. You're too good. You're too good, Lord. Hallelu-- hallelu.
Lord, you're working-- Lord, you're working. On the glory-- on the glory. And the honor-- and the honor. Hallelu-- hallelu.
Hallelujah. Woo. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Woo. Hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
SPEAKER 1: Thank you so much, Chosen Generation. We will now have Ujiji Davis to come with a student reflection.
UJIJI DAVIS: Good evening, everybody. My name is Ujiji Davis. I'm a junior at Cornell. And I wanted to share a poem with you all.
I was in love once with a dream. Someone was calling my name in the melody of this nation's anthem, and I knew that I belonged. I was there, somewhere, in a freedom valley, singing love songs to God. And the hills were singing, too.
I was walking down roads striped with white, blue, and red lines, when the waters came. You were there, too. We were both wading in the water, in Katrina, in the fire hoses way across the Atlantic, we were there together. But there was sun, and light, and a horizon line. And in the gold of the sky, we stood there like giants, too big to act lowly.
And as we walked together, the world waited quietly for action. And we waited on the world for interest, to want us to be this way, to be our way as the only way. We were feared and adored, we were killed, then martyred, shunned, then praised. But everything ended in silence, everything. The rumble was gone, and the world opened its infant eyes and saw our callused feet.
Our journey was not in vain. It was met with milk-and-honey rhymes, Hopi dances, and wild lilies. There we both rested, knowing that we had arrived to a land promised by bald eagles, and now here we are, below the sky, our hair skimming the roof of the world. And we stand like giants, too big to act lowly. Thank you.
ALI HUSSAIN: It is my pleasure to welcome this year's Martin Luther King, Jr. commemoration keynote speaker. Named by US News and Report as one of America's top leaders of 2009, Dr. Eboo Patel is the founder of the Interfaith Youth Corps, a Chicago-based organization building the global interfaith youth movement. He's also the author of one of my personal, but also one of the most award-winning books, Acts of Faith, in which he writes about how he grew to integrate his identity as an American Muslim of Indian ancestry. Dr. Patel is a regular contributor to The Washington Post, USA Today, National Public Radio, and CNN. He also served recently on president Obama's inaugural advisory council of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and is also an Ashoka Fellow, a select group of social entrepreneurs.
Dr. Patel was named by Islamica magazine as one of the 10 young Muslim visionaries shaping Islam in America, chosen by Harvard's Kennedy school as one of the Five Future Leaders to Watch, and was selected to join the Young Global Leaders Network of the World Economic Forum.
Dr. Patel holds a doctorate of sociology from the University of Oxford-- sociology of religion from the Universty of Oxford, where he studied on a Rhodes Scholarship, and also an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. We are very grateful to have Dr. Eboo Patel here tonight with us at this very important occasion. Please, Cornell, join me in welcoming him to Sage Chapel.
EBOO PATEL: On the morning of December 5, 1955, Martin Luther King, Jr. woke up early and went to the kitchen, made himself a pot of coffee, couldn't quite muster the courage to make it to the living room. Coretta went there, stood by the window, watched the first bus on the South Jefferson line go by, shouted, "Martin, it's empty." Second bus-- "Martin, it's empty." And now King joined her, and watched the third bus, and the fourth bus, and the fifth bus all go by-- empty.
The African-American day laborers and maids who used the buses to get to work had heeded the call. For the last four days, King, Ralph Abernathy, ED Nixon, Jo Ann Robinson, a whole host of the African-American leadership of Montgomery, Alabama had been making phone calls, had been paying house visits, had been going to churches to say, let's not just do a legal case for Sister Rosa. Let's try something really bold. Let's try a boycott.
But when he went to bed that night, on December 4, he didn't know it would work. They had to watch. Just imagine the feeling. I know one guy who knows what that feels like. His name is Wael Ghonim. A year ago, he started a Facebook page, We Are All Khaled Said, after a young businessman in Egypt was beaten to death by police officers. Tens of thousands-- in fact hundreds of thousands of people joined that Facebook page.
And when the Tunisian government came down, Wael Ghonim thought to himself, this might be our moment. And he told his bosses at Google in Dubai that his father was sick. He needed six days off to go be with him. He kissed his wife and his two kids good night in an affluent suburb of Dubai. And he went to Egypt. And 50,000 people had told him on Facebook, we will show up January 25. But there were hopes in 2005 also. And at that time, the riot police probably outnumbered the protesters. And there were hopes in 2008. And at that time, the number of protesters that showed up was so piddly the New York Times didn't even report it. So Wael Ghonim didn't know what he was going to see on the streets of Cairo.
But I imagine some sort of cosmic unity between Ghonim watching his generation cross those bridges chanting peacefully, peacefully, Selma, Selma, and Martin Luther King junior thinking "they heeded the call" 55 years ago. One of the things I love about these two is how unlikely they are. I mean, King thought of a life of comfort and status. He was turned down from his first job in [INAUDIBLE], at a church in Tennessee. Wael Ghonim worked, as he said, for the best company in the world. He's repeated, 1,000 times, "I'm not a hero, I'm just a kid on the internet."
But Martin Luther King, Jr. found a different presence coming to him over the course of the bus boycott. You know, we think of that moment in American history as "some people walked to work for a little while, and then they got to sit wherever they want on the bus." It was 382 days. And one day, King was in the pulpit. And he could see somebody come in the side door of the church and start whispering to some of the elders of the African-American community. And he could see their faces fall. And one man went to make for the pulpit to tell King something, and somebody else said, no, don't go.
And King, at this point, wanted to find out what the heck was going on. And so he finished, and he approached his friend Ralph Abernathy, and he said, what's happening? And Abernathy looked at him and said, your home has been firebombed. And King said, are Coretta and Yoki-- his 10-month-old baby-- OK? And Abernathy said, we don't know.
One of the ways that they made the boycott work was they carpooled, about 350 cars owned by the African-American prosperous and elite in Montgomery, Alabama. And one of the ways that the government of Montgomery made it especially hard was they caught you if you were speeding, they caught you if you were going to slow, they caught you if you were driving the speed limit. But African-Americans got ticketed over and over again during this carpool.
One day, King got pulled over, and he got thrown into the back of the police car, and he got driven out of town. And as he was passing the rivers and the woods on the outskirts of Montgomery, Alabama, he thought to himself, I know what happens to black guys in the backseat of police cars when they are driven out of town in these parts. They were taking him to jail. He had never been to the jail. He thought it was in the center of town. He thought to himself, wow, there is a big divide between somebody like me and other people who are part of the broad community.
And in jail, he had some of the most illuminating conversations. There were other-- a range of folks in jail, teachers who had been caught in the same way. And he came out of that situation with a new sense of what it meant to be part of the depth and breadth of this community. But something in him, this presence, what else is it that causes him at the end of the bus boycott, when he is asked by a journalist, you know, all you did was win the right to sit where you want on the buses of one provincial city in the American South in 1956. And your house was firebombed, you received death threats, you were thrown in jail, a whole community was inconvenienced for more than a year. Don't you, at the end of the day, feel angry? And King turns to him and says, this is not the time for anger, this is not the time for revenge, this is the time for redemption, this is the time for reconciliation, this is the time to build the beloved community. That's the first utterance of those words from King, at that moment in Montgomery.
And I think about the interview the Wael Ghonim did hours after he was released from jail-- 12 days tied to a chair, blindfolded, interrogated, his wife and kids searching every morgue, every hospital in Egypt, wondering where he was. His father, in Saudi Arabia, one eye gone bad, the other eye going bad, not knowing. Wael Ghonim, plucked from the streets, thrown into the dungeon.
What did you do when you were released, he was asked. I kissed the police officers, he said. Because they didn't know what they were doing. They thought they were helping Egypt. They had been told a lie about Egypt. And that's not their fault. When showed pictures of the people who died, shot by police officers on top of buildings while they were on Tahrir Square, he wept.
He had to leave the set. That's why Egypt is free, because when a population of 80 million people saw this man who could have gone-- ridden into the sunset in a comfortable job, watched him speak of the dignity of his fellow countrymen, watched him say, this is not the time to settle scores. Whatever has been done to you, whatever has been done to your family, this is the time to speak of dignity, this is the time to think of Egypt. That's when they decided they were going to build a country that was worthy of its civilization.
For me, the most powerful images coming out of Egypt were those images of Qurans and crosses being held aloft in Tahrir Square, when Muslims knelt in salah, Christians made a human chain around them. And three days later, when it was time for Christian mass in the square, it was Muslims who made sure it was carried out peacefully and safely. When members of the Muslim Brotherhood started chanting, "Islam is the solution," they were drowned out by the voices of those who chanted, "Muslim, Christian, we are all Egyptian."
Why is that so powerful? Because frankly that's not what we normally see of religion when we open the newspaper. That's not normally what we think of religion when we think of the Middle East. It's not normally the images that we see on the evening news.
There are three main discourses of religion in our world right now. The first is that religion poisons everything. This is the Christopher Hitchens/Sam Harris discourse. Sam Harris puts it this way-- there is no such thing as a religious moderate. Any religious moderate is simply a failed fanatic. They're just not following their religion.
Number two, the clash of civilizations, religions are fated to fight. They always have, they always do, they always will.
Number three, the Muslims are coming to get you. Previously, it was the Catholics who were coming to get you. Before that-- or actually around that same time-- it was the Jews who were coming to get you. It is simply the reincarnation of hate. But these days, one of the dominant messages about religion is that the Muslims are coming to get you.
So when we see a different story of religion in the news, we think in different ways about what the world could be. There's this beautiful line by Walter Lippmann, "the way the world is imagined will govern, at any given time, what human beings will do." As I looked at those people risking their lives for this, literally, I thought to myself, what if 9-year-olds thought that that's what religion was about? What if college students thought to themselves, there are two great narratives of what religion could be in the 21st century? One is the narrative of religious conflict, faith is a barrier of division or a bomb of destruction, the other is as a narrative of interfaith cooperation, faith as a bridge of inspiration and cooperation.
And a big part of what the next chapter in history will look like when it comes to religion is how we think of the past, which is one of the reasons that when I think of Martin Luther King, Jr., I think not just of a Civil Rights hero, I think not just of a great African-American, I think not just of probably the greatest American of the 20th century, I think also-- and equally-- that he was an interfaith hero.
And that is what I want to speak about tonight-- speak of the moment when King took the train from Crozier Seminary to Philadelphia to go hear Mordecai Johnson preach on Christian love. He was 20 years old. The year was 1950. He was a seminary student at Crozier. And Mordecai Johnson had just returned from India. And he spoke of the embodiment of Christian love in an Indian Hindu named Mahatma Gandhi. And I wondered to myself, what must young Martin Luther King, Jr. have been thinking? Here he is, prince of the black church, studying to be a minister like his daddy was, like his granddaddy was. And he's hearing about how an Indian Hindu embodies the central Christian ethic of love.
There are a lot of people who might have left the room that night-- I don't want to hear anything about another religion. There are a lot of people that might have questioned the foundation of their own faith-- well if this man has such resources in his religion, I want a piece of that faith.
King asked himself a different question. I think it's the profoundly interfaith question-- just what is it in Christianity that might give me the strength to love the way Hinduism gave him the strength to love? One of the things that King writes in reflecting on Gandhi and on that moment in particular is that he had, until that point, seen the love ethic in Christianity as something only to be practiced amongst friends. It was Gandhi and his Hindu idea of satyagraha, and his example in India and South Africa that convinced King that actually the Christian version of satyagraha, or love force, was a social reform movement.
There are very, very few people who get to make their Facebook pages reality. Wael Ghonim had that opportunity. And there are very few people who get to think about how their grand dreams of what their faith might be could play on the global stage. And that's the opportunity King gets in 1955. You know, one of the ways that I feel there is a divine hand in all of this is how King gets selected to be the head of the Montgomery Improvement Association. At first, he wants to be the head of the NAACP chapter in Montgomery. But ED Nixon, Pullman Porter senior African-American leader in that community, tells King, I like you, young man, but I've got my eyes on somebody else to be the head of the NAACP chapter. And in case you've forgotten, you're new in town, and I run this organization.
So King gave up that dream. And when he got a phone call on December 2 from ED Nixon, saying, will you support the idea of a boycott, one of the things King thought to himself is, hmm, I'm going to make this guy wait for a minute or two. After all, he pulled one over on me quite recently.
Not a lot of people would have initially supported the idea of Martin Luther King, Jr. as the head of the Montgomery Improvement Association. He actually arrived late at the meeting in which the election was going to be held. And there was a squabble amongst some of the other African-American leaders in the room. King walked in, and interjected in the squabble in a way that showed his maturity and his poetry. And when it came time to elect a leader, before the motion was basically even out of the mouth of the person affording it, Rufus Lewis stands up and says, I nominate Martin Luther King, Jr., a second person seconds it, and a startled group of people basically shrug their shoulders and say, yes. And young Dr. King thinks to himself, how am I going to explain this to Coretta? I got another job on my hands.
Not a lot of people get that opportunity. But King did in 1955. And one of the things he says is that, for him, Jesus furnishes the inspiration, but Gandhi gives him the method. I love how open and explicit King is about learning from somebody from a different religion. In 1959, King actually goes to India. He wants to see Gandhism in action-- the legacy of it at least. Gandhi had been assassinated 10 years before. And King is astounded by not just the religious diversity of India, but the fact that the Gandhian movement included Muslims and Hindus, Christians and Jains, Buddhists and Secularists, all of these people working together, all of them calling it satyagraha, but also having their own religious terms for it-- rahma, mercy, in Islamic Arabic.
King comes back to his pulpit in this little city in Alabama. And he gets up in February of 1959, and he preaches these words-- "Oh God, our gracious, heavenly Father, we call you this name. But we know some call you Allah, we know some call you Brahma, we know some call you Elohim, we know some call you the unmoved mover."
In 1963, King comes to Chicago, to the conference on religion and race. He gets up at the lectern, and he brings the thunder of Amos-- "let justice rain down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." And in the back of that lecture hall is a man who escaped the trains going from Warsaw to Auschwitz by six weeks. If there was one person who had a reason to focus only on his own people, it was the Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel. He watched 6 million Jews be burned in the hellfires of Hitler's Europe. But there was something that brought Heschel to that conference, a desire to do darshan with King, to see him in the flesh. He'd only heard of him previously. At Heschel sits in the back of that lecture hall, and he mouths along the words of Amos as King preaches them. And he writes in his journal, "The soul of Judaism is at stake in the Civil Rights movement."
There was a line from one of the protesters in Egypt-- "Our protest is like salat." There was a line from Heschel in Selma-- "I felt like my legs were praying."
In 1967, King goes to Riverside Church. He preaches a sermon called "A Time to Break Silence." It is, in many ways, the culmination of a private correspondence he had been keeping with the venerable Thich Nhat Hahh, the great Vietnamese Buddhist monk. And Thich Nhat Hanh had written to him, "we Buddhists, we think of you as a Bodhisattva, one who has attained enlightenment and chosen to stay on earth to teach compassion. But we wonder, Reverend King, why your compassion stops at the gate of the Vietnamese, why it doesn't understand our suffering?"
King comes to Riverside Church to right that wrong. And he gives a set of reasons about why he comes out against the Vietnam war. But he says, in the middle of that sermon, you know what the deepest reason is? The deepest reason is that I call myself a follower of Jesus Christ. And that identity, to be a son of the living God, is higher than any other commitment, higher than race, or nation, or creed. And I can't sleep with myself at night if I don't do something that resembles following my conscience. He follows that with this line, that the Buddhist-Muslim-Hindu-Christian-Jewish idea of the unifying principle of life is love. And then he quotes from John. And I feel like, in that sermon, this notion of what your faith inspires/requires you to do, recognizing a common value across faiths, but returning to your own to show the scripture, and the support, and the inspiration of it, I feel like that's the golden nugget of interfaith leadership.
There is a story of a Christian pastor in Europe during World War II. And his congregation sends some money so that he can return home to celebrate Christmas with them. He uses the money to help a group of Jews flee to safety, flee out of the Holocaust. And one of his congregants writes a letter to him and says, how could you use the money to help people who were not Christian? And he writes back three words, "because I am." I think that that is what the Christians of Egypt were telling us when they braved Mubarak's bullets and formed a human chain around the Muslims doing prayer. I think that that's what the Muslims of Egypt were telling us when they made sure their Christian brethren were safe the following Sunday. And I think that that's what Abraham Joshua Heschel was advancing when he walked in Selma. And I think that that's a hugely important thread in the Civil Rights movement.
I remember being in college in the mid-1990s, and realizing what had happened in 1989. The day the wall fell, November 9, 1989, was the day I turned 14. I wish I could tell you that I was focused on global affairs. I had gotten a new Schwinn that day.
And I thought that I had missed history a few years later. I thought, that's going to be it, that's going to be my moment. I mean, what could be bigger than the fall of the Berlin wall? I mean, Roger Waters is going to play the album again. That's what he promised. And I feel like we've just seen rolling history these last 20 years. Nelson Mandela, in Cape Town, inviting his jailers to stand next to him during his inauguration, Barack Obama in Iowa, Egypt free. I feel like we've seen history. And I feel like it's this big, beautiful message to it. I feel like there's these three things running through it. The first thing is, dream your dream.
Now, one of the things I did about a week ago is I went and I looked at the New York Times and Washington Post reports from the protests in Egypt in 2005. And they're hilarious. It's like, honestly, the reports of protests on small college quads. 200 people showed up, waved signs, and chanted slogans. 30 cars of riot police came, shoved them to the side, and laughed at them. But that's where a 27-year-old kid got the idea to start the April 6 youth movement. And three years later, when that kid called for protests on April 6, 2008, the protests were even smaller. The weather was terrible. I can imagine this kid waking up and cursing the sky for the rain. A couple dozen people showed up.
And so you know what he said they did? They retreated online. And they started Facebook pages. And that's where Ahmed [INAUDIBLE] meets Wael Ghonim. And they collaborate on the page for Mohamed ElBaradei, and Ghonim starts the page called We are Khaled Said. And they kept on talking about, what if we built a society? What if we built a society in which every human being, like the Quran says, has dignity? They dream their dream. They did their work. I mean, they called the protests, a couple dozen people came, you know what they did? They called the next protest. They started the Facebook page, a couple hundred people came, you know what they did? They started the next Facebook page. They did a training. A few people came. You know what they did? They did the next training.
I mean, there's people in this room, you know, and hour after hour you keep your appointments with young people coming in for pastoral counseling, you do your book groups, you study nonviolence, you go to your Wednesday afternoon tutoring at the school on the other side of Ithaca. You dream your dream. You do your work. That's what these kids did. And then, when the moment came, they were ready.
I mean, I promise you, if you asked Wael Ghonim five weeks ago, would you leave your wife and kids? Would you endure being blindfolded and interrogated, knowing your family was searching every morgue and hospital, knowing your father was wondering if his son was going to die before he was, could you do it? He would have said, I'm an executive at Google. Are you kidding me? But when the time came, he could do it-- any of us could. They dreamed their dream, they did their work. When the moment came, they were ready.
And you just never know. You never know who's in that classroom that you're tutoring at on the other side of Ithaca. You never know who that student is that needs pastoral counseling an hour later than your normal office hours. You never know who's going to show up at that service learning project that you run every April because you've always done it. You never know.
Seamus Heaney wrote a verse about this. I'll close with it. "History says, don't hope, on this side of the grave. But once in a lifetime, that longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme." [SPEAKING ARABIC], may God give you goodness. Thank you.
So thank you for coming tonight. I was thinking to myself on the way over, these are the nights when you think, hey, you know what, Berkeley. Was that such a terrible idea to go to Berkeley? Anyway, I'm glad you came to Cornell. I'm glad and honored that Cornell invited me. And I want to hear your questions and thoughts at this moment when hope and history are rhyming. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: So obviously we're all here right now because we really passionately about this. And I personally bring this message to other people, and especially people who this just wasn't even on their radar. And how can we put that on radar for youth and other people?
EBOO PATEL: What's the what you want to put on the radar?
AUDIENCE: This message of multifaith/interfaith love, of cooperation, something just really unifying for a lot of people.
EBOO PATEL: I have a four-point answer to your question. Do you want to hear it? OK.
So I think that there are four important pieces to what we at the Interfaith Youth Corps call interfaith literacy. Part one is what we call a theology of interfaith cooperation. This is what King did in the sermon, "A Time to Break Silence." He articulates what it is from Christianity that compels him to engage positively with people from other religions. So if you're a secular humanist, call it a philosophy of interfaith cooperation. But there's a Jewish theology, there's a Muslim theology, there's a Hindu theology, a Christian theology, a secular humanist moral philosophy. What is it, right? Because at some point, you're going to be asked by people in your own community, why does this matter. And you're going to need to know chapter and verse.
Now, I don't actually think that this is that cumbersome. I think that this is a highly salient dimension of every faith. In Islam, there is this beautiful line in the holy Quran from surah 49 that God made us different nations and tribes that we may come to know one another. But we got to know that. We have to know, from the communities and traditions were from, what line of narrative would advance the idea of interfaith cooperation. That's part number one.
Part number two is to know shared values between different religions. So hospitality is a shared value, compassion is a shared value, service is a shared value. Almost all the time, encounters between different religions happen in the language of what we call mutual exclusivities. But the fact is, religions have an awful lot in common. To be able to identify those shared values and to be able to invoke those in conversation, I think, is hugely important.
Part number three of this-- and this sounds simple, but it's very needed-- is knowing positive, appreciative things about other religions. So I mean, we're now in the era in which making sweeping statements about Islam or Muslims-- people make them proudly. Not too long ago, it was made about Jews and Catholics. The entire Catholic church was called the Catholic menace. Every Jew was supposedly looking for influence in the highest offices in the land. Today, honestly, when Campbell's offers a line of soup that's called Halal soup, there are a loud group of people in America who say that this is the equivalent of succumbing to Sharia law. I'm not kidding.
And part of the challenge with this is that there aren't enough people who have, at the tips of their tongue, things that they admire or appreciate about another religion. I ask this to college audiences with some frequency-- tell me something positive about Islam. And there's silence. It's an embarrassing silence. They're as embarrassed as I am. Because the fact is, they should know. It's, after all, a tradition of 1,400 years old and 1 and 1/2 billion people.
So to know some of those positive nuggets-- and I'm not talking, like, Cornell grad school stuff. I'm talking like Muhammad Ali was a Muslim. Like, seriously, like the greatest sports icon of the American 20th century was a Muslim. The Sears Tower was designed by a Muslim. Albert Einstein, the 20th century's great physicist, was a Jew-- these types of things. Just things that are positive about another tradition.
The final thing is to know some examples of interfaith cooperation. That's why the heart of this talk was on interfaith cooperation in the Civil Rights movement. Because maybe the most common way to dismiss religion these days is when people say, well, those people, they've always fought, so they're always going to fight. That's just not true. But if we don't know an alternative narrative of how religions have engaged one another, if we don't know the way religions worked together in South Africa to free that nation, or India, or in the Civil Rights movement, or in Egypt 10 days ago, then the people who say religions have only ever always fought, they win.
So I would say those four things as lines of information. And then here's the thing to practice. Practice how you talk about that. Practice how you talk about that. And one of the things that has astounded me in the last couple of years is really how effective the message of intolerance has spread. I don't think it's because it's a better message, and I don't think it's because people want to hear it more. I just think that those people have figured out how to tell the story. All that means is we have to figure out how to tell our story. That was probably more than you bargained for. I do this for a living. Yeah. That four-part thing, took us 10 years to come up with that. We're very proud of it.
AUDIENCE: I just want to follow up on that question. And it might be a little too simplistic. But do you have any suggestions beyond whoever you normally speak with to be able to speak in those ways? Do you have any other suggestions for ways that we, as individuals, could figuratively or literally speak to more people about that message? How to get the word out to the [INAUDIBLE]?
EBOO PATEL: So I think-- by the way, we just launched our new website which we are very proud of, and it took us an awful lot of time, and it directly answers questions like that. So let me give you the name of the website, and then let me offer some ideas.
It's ifyc.org, and it attempts to address lots and lots of these questions. It's got a bunch of cool videos about this, et cetera, et cetera.
So, do you get accused of preaching to the choir all the time?
Me too, so much that co-opted that, right? So here's my co-optation of that. I think the problem when it comes to interfaith cooperation is that the choir is not singing. And I'm serious about that. There are enough people who believe in the idea that religions shouldn't kill each other and don't have to fight. There's enough people that feel that every inch of America is sacred ground, and part of what makes it sacred ground is that people from all different backgrounds belong and can contribute. The question is, why isn't that song loud enough?
So here's how I would think about it. One is, each of us has a community, a choir, if you will. How do we make this issue of high importance to them? So in other words, it's not going out and changing the minds of people who aren't a part of our community. It's raising something in importance in people who are a part of our community, and giving them two things-- vocabulary and vocal chords. What is the vocabulary of interfaith cooperation?
Part of it is things like, (RECITING) Martin Luther King, Jr. Was an interfaith hero. Do you know about his march in Selma with Abraham Joshua Heschel? Do you realize that part of what these young Muslims in Egypt were doing was making sure that they were building a nation in which people from all religious backgrounds in that country felt safe? And do you know that that's actually part of the Quran?
And one of the ways we do this all the time at the Interfaith Youth Corps is we bridge off of bad events. So something bad happens in the world, and part of what we're doing all the time is telling the alternative story, and basically saying, that's not how the world has to be. This is how the world can be. And the louder we get, the more we sing the song of pluralism, the higher chance that the world is going to be like this.
And then here's what happens, I think, that group of people who's in the choir that you've been preaching to, that you've been teaching this song to, when they feel as comfortable, and confident, and motivated as you are, you know what they do? They start their own choirs. They start telling their own communities about this. I mean, the question that I get all the time from really, really smart 20-year-old students and audiences on college campuses is, hey, man, we get this at Northwestern, but are you going to bring this to my hometown in Nebraska? And I'm like, no, you are. It's not my job to go to your hometown in Nebraska. I don't know those people. I don't swim in those waters, you do. It's your job to bring it to that community.
So now what you have to do is think of the language, think of the method, think of the stories you would tell to make it make sense in Nebraska. I think that's how things spread.
AUDIENCE: What has compelled you to start this work?
EBOO PATEL: Excuse me?
AUDIENCE: What has compelled you to do this work? Was it the Schwinn?
EBOO PATEL: [CHUCKLES]
It was not the Schwinn. When I was in high school, a group of thugs started going after my Jewish friend, and I didn't do anything about it. And a couple of years after that, he confronted me on it, and he said, I watched you watch me suffer, and I watched you do nothing. Tell me about that.
And it was humiliating to hear that. And I talked to my dad about it. And my dad was furious. And he said to me, you know, you didn't fail just as a friend, you failed as a Muslim. And I wanted to know what that meant. My dad is not a particularly religious person, and it frankly surprised me to hear him invoke religion in that moment. But I feel like a good part of my life has been figuring out what my dad meant by, it is a Muslim duty to stand up for people from other backgrounds who are being hurt and marginalized, which is one of the reasons I'm drawn so much to stories like the Christian pastor during World War II in Europe, or Heschel in the Civil Rights movement, or the the non-Quakers who wrote The Flushing Remonstrance in the 17th century to stand up for Quakers. And I actually think that this was one of the most inspiring dynamics in American history, that when the faces of intolerance reveal themselves, the forces of inclusiveness go into action and defeat them. Because that's what America is about. And I think that's what our religions are about. So that's, for me, the theological reason for this.
Plus, I mean, honestly, what is more inspiring than advancing a movement that desperately needs to happen? I mean, there's this beautiful line in the work of the Buddhist poet, Gary Snyder, "our job is to move the world a millionth of an inch." And I would pray, when I was in college, God, just let me be in the mix. Literally, this was one of my prayers-- just let me be in the mix. And I feel like here I am.
EBOO PATEL: Thank you very much. I am going to tell my wife that, because she's like, get off your computer. You have two kids to take-- stop writing that speech. But I kept on watching videos of this guy, Wael Ghonim, and then reading King's speeches. And I'm like, there's a very powerful resonance. So thank you for hearing that. It was all worth it. Any last question? Yeah.
AUDIENCE: So what is your driving force? What kind of keeps you going? Because I know-- I mean, personally, I'm a senior. And Cornell is a hard place. And after four years here, you almost in a sense kind of feel beaten down. And it's very easy to retreat in the warmth of your apartment. So what's your driving force? What keeps you going?
EBOO PATEL: So I would be lying if I said that I was equally inspired every day. You know, I'm not. But I just literally feel like these last-- I mean, it's different things. I'll tell you just a couple of stories. I think this is a hugely important question. It's a very personal question.
So I get this Facebook message like seven weeks ago. And this kid's like, Mr. Patel, it's Omar, do you remember me? I'm not a thug anymore. And I wrote back, and I'm like, I don't believe you. And he was in my class when I was 20 years old, when I first graduated from college, and I was a teacher.
And I kept on telling him, Omar, you play a thug, but you're not really a thug. And it's 15 years later, and this kid is, like, Facebooking me and repeating my lines back. And I just-- that kept me going.
Egypt-- Egypt has kept me going in a huge way. And literally, going back and reading the news reports from 2005, and just thinking about where this movement was back then, I mean, you can almost hear the New York Times writer laughing as he wrote this. And not because he was mean, but because he was like, do these people really think that they're going to bring down the 10th-largest military in the world with their signs, and their chants of keffiyeh?
Mona Eltahawy, who has been on every news channel in the last three weeks-- she's an Egyptian-American writer-- she went back during 2005 to participate in the protest. She was one of-- count them-- 300 people. And she writes, in a Washington Post piece, "we know that we are not on the doorstep of democracy, but we believe in laying the groundwork." I mean, she's almost apologetic, 2005, right? And it is astonishing to me what's happened. And I think to myself, literally, these people dreamed their dream and they did their work. And there's people all over America who go and they clock in at the firehouse at 8:00 o'clock every morning. And most of the time, it's a false alarm. But every once in a while, they save some 4-year-old's life. They just do their work.
I just think of-- my son is 3 and 1/2, and is in school right now. And every night, we get a report from his teacher about him. Every night, Miss Garber sits down and writes 15 sets of parents two paragraphs on how their kids did at school. My wife and I are like, does every kid take cars from the toy box and get cooldown periods, or is it just our kid? It's probably just our kid. But every night, she does this. And you just never know who's in your class. You dream your dreams, do your work. You dream your dreams, do your work.
There's a story in Islam, it's a story of the prophet Abraham in the fire. Muslims in the audience know the story. You know what I'm talking about. And there is this old woman who takes a pail of water and throws it on the fire. And this man in the circle, watching the prophet burn, looks at the old woman and says, the fire didn't even go down one inch. Why did you do that? It was useless. And she said, because when I come before my maker, and he says to me, when my prophet was in the fire, what did you do, I will not say "nothing."
So it's a combination, I think, of those cosmic stories, and these historical moments, and hearing from old students whose lives you've impacted. What keeps you going?
AUDIENCE: Well, the first thing that came to mind, honestly, was the tuition that my parents paid. But--
EBOO PATEL: Stand up.
AUDIENCE: I said, well, the first thing that came to mind was the tuition that my parents paid. But I don't think that's what drives me. I think it's my faith. And when it comes to my choir, when it comes to my a capella group, it's the people who show up that drive me.
EBOO PATEL: So look, you just said three big things. I just want to linger for a moment. Your faith, your community, the people who rely on you, and I just want to sort of say something about the tuition your parents are paying-- go back, and there's a New Yorker article on Toni Morrison that was done a couple of years ago. Anybody remember this piece? And she's working at a publishing house, she's a copy editor or something like that. And she's writing her first novel, The Bluest Eye. And you know what kept her going night after night? Thinking about her grandmother and everything that her grandmother had sacrificed. I think that that's huge.
I'll tell you a funny story, and then we'll go to the next question, although we could have this conversation forever. So my dad, when I was like 10 years old, and reading comic books instead of doing my math homework, would say to me, (STERNLY) you grandfather came from a village in Gujarat to the city of Bombay with nothing but a can of ghee-- which is clarified butter for those who are not South Asian in the audience--
--and a wristwatch. And he sold vegetables off a pushcart. He bought an apple for one paisa, and he split it in half, and he sold each half for a paisa. And that's why you're where you are today. And look at you goofing off.
And when my doctoral advisor in Oxford-- I hated that story, by the way-- I was like, I don't even know the dude, you know? I don't care what he sold. He should have stayed in the village. I don't care. My doctorate advisor in Oxford, as I'm running off between South Africa, and Kenya, and Sri Lanka, and India, and running interfaith youth service projects, starting the Interfaith Youth Corps, and doing my doctorate, he's like, so what drives you? And I was like, my grandfather.
And I was like, these things, they get in your blood. They get in your blood. So tell your parents that. They'll appreciate that. You'll probably get a lecture, but they'll appreciate it.
We have a little more time if anybody has any questions. Or you could share stories about what keeps you going. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: What is the role of the non-religious in this interfaith discussion and dialogue?
EBOO PATEL: Yep. Great question. It's the same as the role of the religious, which is to say to be part of the beloved community through the philosophy and tradition that you're a part of and that you hold to. Actually probably the most visible graduate of the Interfaith Youth Core is a highly-tattooed, pierced, gay secular humanist who just signed a book deal to write a book called Faitheist, and just completed a tour of East Coast and Midwest colleges talking about why he thinks interfaith cooperation is something that secular humanists ought to be paying attention to. And one of his rules is that whatever group brings him to a college-- it's either the interfaith group-- they think he's very exotic-- or the secular students association-- he requires that the two groups jointly co-sponsor his visit.
And what he offered-- he was an intern at the Interfaith Youth Corps, went through several of our leadership programs-- what he offered was the same as everybody else, which is he would talk about parts of his tradition which brought him to interfaith cooperation. He would learn appreciative things about other traditions. He would lead interfaith service projects. So it's literally the same. I would say, out of any given audience that we engage with, 20% is non-religious, including our staff. So in a staff of 35 people, seven or eight would call themselves not religious.
And here's the other thing I think about in our staff, the Interfaith Youth Corps, is everybody thinks that their tradition is right. So what I mean by that is it's not about-- for our community, at least, for our staff-- religions being equal, it's about religions cooperating, if you will. It's about how people from different faiths who believe very, very deeply in their faiths-- like King did. King had great admiration for Gandhi, but he didn't become a Hindu. And it's not as if he didn't know how. He just loved Christianity more. That doesn't mean he couldn't learn from a Hindu. That doesn't mean he couldn't admire Hinduism. That doesn't mean he couldn't work with Hindus. So that's an important dimension of the work that we do. It's not a requirement to think that all religions are equal. It's just a requirement to think that all religions can and should cooperate.
AUDIENCE: I have a second question. Except that doesn't quite address the group of people for whom-- atheists, basically, who the world is explained by science, and they don't have a need for religion? How do you engage those people in this conversation, since it's not just about religion, but [INAUDIBLE]?
EBOO PATEL: Right. So I think these are great questions. But what we do is not about the need for religion. What we do is about the reality of how people from different religious backgrounds, including people of no religious background, get along on earth. And our claim is that everybody has a stake in that. Nobody is interested in, whether you're religious or not, people from different religions continuing a pattern of intolerance or violence. It's bad for everybody.
So if we call what we do-- we don't do heaven at the Interfaith Youth Corps, if you will. And we also don't do "religion is the repository of all things moral." That's not what it is. Our goal is not to tell people it's better to be religious. Our goal is to tell people it's better when people from different religious backgrounds, including no religion at all, engage each other positively. And religious traditions have the resources to do so. It's in their scripture, it's in their heroes, it's in their history. So whether you're religious or not, you have a stake in this. And part of what we do is create a space where people can be proud of their backgrounds, meaning they're proud that they're Muslim, or proud that they're an atheist, that they don't have to hide that. We think that that's a space that is unique. It's an opportunity that people relish. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: At the risk of dissolving into generality, is there anything you can say from your experiences of what do people have to gain by holding onto the message of intolerance, would you say?
EBOO PATEL: Yeah. What do people have to gain by holding on to the message of intolerance. I don't know. So-- I am not going to be a good answerer to that question. I'm not wired that way. I will tell you this, that I imagine myself meeting Pamela Geller at an airport, and saying to her, when you are ready, I will be ready to forgive you, because I can't imagine that what you are doing is who you really want to be. And it might take you a minute, and that's good, because I'm going to need a minute.
And here's where I get this from, right-- that's not me being any better than I am. It's me looking at what religion does for people.
You know that famous picture of Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957, that dignified African-American woman in the white dress with the big sunglasses walking to school, and the picture of that woman in the background with that hideous scream. You know the picture I'm talking about? So at the 20th anniversary of Little Rock-- of Central High, in 1977, that woman asked Elizabeth Eckford for forgiveness, and Elizabeth forgave her. And I just think it's such a touch of grace. And I want a little bit of that. And so those moments in history when people have done just the most astoundingly unthinkable-- I mean, the African-American clergy of the Deep South forgave George Wallace officially when George Wallace apologized. Gandhi, when he was in jail in South Africa, he spent his time hand-making a pair of sandals, and presented them to Prime Minister Smuts upon his release. People cultivate that quality.
So I don't want to spend my time in the various layers of Dante's circles wondering why intolerant people do what they do. I want to spend my time imagining the moment when they say, I don't want to be like this anymore, and me saying, I'm glad. Welcome-- welcome-- welcome to the beloved community. Welcome to that. That's what I want-- I'm not there yet. I'm a long way from that. But that's what I want to spend my time cultivating.
AUDIENCE: I have a quick question. How do you think that the education that you've been able to obtain and developed kind of aided to your ability to achieve your goal and go through your mission?
EBOO PATEL: Say more about that question. Which part of the education. And tell-- yeah, just say more about that question.
AUDIENCE: I mean, I'm just kind of curious-- you're speaking to a group of college students, mainly, who are trying to figure out what they want to do with their life. And I know a lot of people who kind of have-- they can see the end goal that they want to achieve, but don't really know what they have to do to get there.
And I'm just wondering-- it seems like you had a somewhat clear idea of what you wanted to do, and you obviously were able to do something to got there. So I was wondering what role education played in that, and whether or not you feel that that was a necessary component to getting there, or if there was something else that could have gotten you there faster or in a better way.
EBOO PATEL: This is not the answer you expected. Getting straight A's in college let me tell my parents, "get off my back" during the summers. And what that meant was I got to do what I wanted with my summers, two of which I spent traveling the United States, and one of which I spent doing a study on communes in America. This is not, by the way, the traditional path to Yale Law School, which is what my dad had hoped for when I started college.
And I shouldn't say-- the words, "get off my back" is actually too strong. But basically being an exceptional student bought me my freedom with, for me, South Asian Muslim parents who were relatively conservative in what they considered success. So the way my parents thought about it was, whatever crazy adventures this kid is having out in the big bad world, his degree will give him the chance to report to the circles of success what he needs to when he wants to.
And that is actually, for me, a very real thing. Because it was all those adventures that I had. It was-- do you guys know the name Jim Wallis? OK, so part of me is doing this study of communes after my sophomore year in college. It was a lot of Christian communes, a lot of social justice communes that I went to. And all these places that I went to, they would say, you have to go meet Jim Wallis, you have to go meet Jim Wallis. So I drove to DC to meet Jim Wallis, and I went to Sojourners, where he worked. And his secretary is like, literally the only day this month that Jim is here is today, and his schedule is packed from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, and you'll never get to see him.
I'm like, what time did you say he got off? She was like, 7:00. I'm like, uh huh. And it turns out there are not that many Jim Wallises in the DC phone book. And so I found out where he lived, and I sat on his porch. And when he came home, I was like, Reverend Wallis, I just want to meet you, and I want to thank you for carrying out the tradition of Dorothy Day. And I promise you I would have been taking Spanish classes at the College of DuPage in July of 1995 instead of standing on Jim Wallis's porch if I was anything but an excellent student. In other words, that's the bargain I had with my parents. And those additional adventures I had is what helped me fill out my academic education.
I'll say a second thing about my education, which is confidence. Me being a Rhodes scholar and having a doctorate from Oxford means that you get meetings that you otherwise wouldn't get, at least for me. So I think, use what you can use. That's what I had. If I looked like, I don't know, Matt Damon or something, maybe I would use that. But I don't. So I had to fall back on my degree. But it bought me freedom, and it opened doors.
We got time for one more? Yeah.
AUDIENCE: So I want to say just a little bit about my background, and the kind of interfaith community I grew up in. In many countries in West Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, if you took out Nigeria-- because Nigeria seems to be very divided between north and south, Muslims and Christians. And nowadays there's a lot of problems, a lot of tension. But if you look at other countries in West Africa-- Gambia, Senegal-- where there are majority Muslim people and minority Christians, there is so much tolerance.
I grew up in Gambia, and my parents sent me to a Muslim school because those were the best schools at that time. The missionaries came and introduced Western education, and the [INAUDIBLE] Islam had been there for centuries. Islam was kind of pushed aside. And the colonial powers, the British and French, made Western education the important thing. So you had to go to school if you want to be important. So the good schools, they are parochial schools. So my parents put me in a medical school.
And I would go to school in the morning. I would be asked to sing hymns-- which I really enjoyed. I love singing. And then in the afternoon, I was speaking my native language, and then I go to Arabic school. From the age of 6, I was learning Arabic.
So it was afternoon, learn Arabic, learn the Quran. In the morning, I go to a regular school, I learn English, and I lean about the Bible. Up to the time I went to high school, I took an exam. It's like taking the SATs in difficult knowledge. So I was really knowledgeable about the Bible, very knowledgeable about the Quran. And that's the way kids learned in Gambia. This is the way we were raised. It's the way things were, and still are. We're very tolerant of other faiths. The majority of people are Muslim. It's 99% Muslim, 1% Catholic. But my grandfather on my mother's side was Catholic, and he converted to marry my grandmother because he loved my grandmother so much. So I have a lot of Catholic cousins. We go to their weddings. You know, after class in regular school, sometimes when I would go to Quran class, my mom used to send me to this old Catholic lady to teach me some more English. And she would take me to Catechism at the Catholic church.
So I grew up like that, and I came to the United States in 1981, and I was really shocked. Because this was not the kind of society that I grew up in. You know, the people where not as tolerant about other faiths. When I told them I was Muslim, they were like, what? At that time, no one knew about Muslims, which was good then. Now everyone knows what Muslims are in a bad way.
But I'm just telling you this, and tell my kids this all the time, like, oh, I really feel sorry for you. You kids do not have a really good childhood. Had my Methodist hymn book in my hand at home, singing Christmas carols at home, chasing me out of the house. It was fun. And I keep repeating this to my kids-- you know, this is the way the world should be. And that's just my story.
EBOO PATEL: Well, that's a great way to end, and a great example of interfaith cooperation that's happening in many, many pockets of the world. Thank you.
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The annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration at Cornell provides a public, campus based forum that makes accessible the life and legacy of Dr. King for contemporary times.
This year's King Commemoration speaker, Dr. Eboo Patel, Founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) based in Chicago, is a legatee of the King commitment to an inclusive society and world. Named by US News & World Report as one of America's Best Leaders of 2009, Dr. Patel is author of the award-winning book
Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. He is also a regular contributor to the Washington Post, National Public Radio, USA Today and CNN. He served on President Obama's Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership and holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship.