I’ll never forget Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” These famous words sung by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., have positively impacted countless people. In his messages of tolerance, education, and justice are lessons that all people in all corners of the world can embrace.
As a high school teenager, learning about the civil rights movement. I was never aware of such a conflict that divided and devastated America and its culture. I learned about a man who selflessly galvanized a society to persevere no matter what the cost; I learned that his message was more than a non-violent approach to the civil rights movement. It was a universal message that encouraged individuality and human worth. I recall as my teacher spoke, I glanced around my class and was struck with the profound realization that all of us are individuals. While we all looked similar, had comparable backgrounds, practiced the same religion and even coveted the same designer jeans, we were all different. I was assured to learn that these differences are not limited to the society in which I was raised. I was raised in Kuwait. I was further assured to learn that the solution for overcoming these differences is a universal solution. This is a lesson I carry with me throughout my life.
Throughout my childhood and, up until recently, my adult life, I have resided in societies that are more or less homogenous. I had always known that America, the land of Dr. King, is an enormous melting pot of diversity. So when I migrated from the Kuwait to Chicago, I was delighted by the diversity that so openly existed. I assumed that because of this diversity I would be accepted easily. But yet, I was surprised by how I was perceived. Wearing the traditional Muslim scarf, I was instantly marked as different from most. I felt as those people hesitated interacting with me, avoided looking me in the eye, and talked about me behind my back. What disheartened me the most, was that I was being treated a certain way not because of who I am, but because of my appearance.
Overcoming this obstacle was crucial to my assimilation in my new home. Initially, I made the mistake that many of us often make – I became defensive, paranoid and withdrawn from those whom may have had misconceptions about me. The only person this hurt was myself. Fortunately, my US History class redirected my efforts. I was soon reminded of the lessons of love and tolerance I learned ten years before and the man who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend these core teachings. Recalling Dr. King’s message, I learned to not allow my appearance to create a wall between others and myself. Instead, use it as a bridge to educate those who are ignorant to my religion and background.
Although I was exposed to Dr. King’s message of tolerance and love early on, I experienced its full impact many years later, when I was the one discriminated against. I know now that tolerance is a two way street. It is each individual’s responsibility to endure the differences that exist in this world. But when others do not meet their responsibilities, it is imperative that we educate them through love and perseverance. Understanding that we are all different, that we are all marvelously unique is crucial. However, understanding that we are all significant and everyone deserves to be treated with respect is truly invaluable.
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