We Are Each Other's Business In high school, Eboo Patel failed to support a friend facing anti-Semitism. Now, the Chicago interfaith youth organizer believes honoring diversity means having the courage to actively speak up for it.

We Are Each Other's Business

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Unidentified Man #1: I believe in the power of love.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe...

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe...

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in the importance...

Unidentified Woman #2: I believe that every...

Unidentified Man #4: I believe in people.

Unidentified Man #5: This I believe.


Mondays, we bring you This I Believe, our series of statements of personal conviction. This morning, we hear from the 29-year-old founder and director of the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago. His name is Eboo Patel, and here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON reporting:

Eboo Patel's beliefs were confirmed in a moment he's not proud of. His efforts since then have been to redeem that moment by honoring what he believes in with action. Here is Eboo Patel with his essay for This I Believe, which begins as he says, the way Muslims begin most things, with a prayer. It translates, `In the name of God, the most compassionate, the most merciful.'

Mr. EBOO PATEL (Interfaith Youth Core): (Foreign language spoken). I am an American Muslim. I believe in pluralism. In the Holy Koran, God tells us, `I created you into diverse nations and tribes that you may come to know one another.' I believe America is humanity's best opportunity to make God's wish that we come to know one another a reality.

In my office hangs Norman Rockwell's illustration "Freedom of Worship." A Muslim holding a Koran stands near a Catholic woman fingering her rosary. Other characters have their hands folded in prayer and their eyes filled with piety. They stand shoulder to shoulder, facing the same direction, comfortable with the presence of one another, and yet apart. It is a vivid depiction of a group living in peace with its diversity, yet not exploring it. We live in a world where the forces that seek to divide us are strong. To overcome them, we must do more than simply stand next to one another in silence.

I attended high school in the western suburbs of Chicago. The group I ate lunch with included a Jew, a Mormon, a Hindu, a Catholic and a Lutheran. We were all devout to a degree, but we almost never talked about religion. Somebody would announce at the table that they couldn't eat a certain kind of food, or any food at all, for a period of time. We all knew religion hovered behind us, but nobody ever offered any explanation deeper than, `My mom said,' and nobody ever asked for one.

A few years after we graduated, my Jewish friend from the lunchroom reminded me of an experience we both wish had never happened. A group of thugs in our high school had taken to scrawling anti-Semitic slurs on classroom desks, and shouting them in the hallway. I did not confront them. I did not comfort my Jewish friend. Instead, I averted my eyes from their bigotry and I avoided the eyes of my friend because I couldn't stand to face him. My friend told me he feared coming to school those days, and he felt abandoned as he watched his close friends do nothing.

Hearing him tell me of his suffering and my complicity is the single-most humiliating experience of my life. My friend needed more than my silent presence at the lunch table. I realize now that to believe in pluralism means I need the courage to act on it. Action is what separates a belief from an opinion. Beliefs are imprinted through actions. In the words of the American poet Gwendolyn Brooks, `We are each other's business. We are each other's harvest. We are each other's magnitude and bond.'

I cannot go back in time and take away the suffering of my Jewish friend, but through action, I can prevent it from happening to others.

ALLISON: Eboo Patel, with his essay for This I Believe.

The organization that Patel founded, by the way, works to build understanding between young people from diverse religious communities.

We hope you will accept our invitation, like Patel did, to write a statement of personal belief. You can find information and all the essays at our Web site, npr.org. Or you can call (202) 408-0300. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

MONTAGNE: Next Monday on "All Things Considered," a This I Believe essay from listener Harold Paugh(ph) of Seattle, Washington. He's a man with a unique birthday tradition.


MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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