IYC in partnership with Christian Metropolitan Council organized a poetry workshop in honor of MLK day on Saturday, Jan 14th at the Biomedical Library of the University of Pennsylvania. The workshop was sponsored by the Director of the Library, Barbara Cavanaugh. Approximately 25 middle school and high school students from Bala Cynwyd Middle School, Quba Institute of Islamic Studies, and Lower Merion High School attended the event. The workshop was led by Dr. Gregory Laynor, poet and librarian at the Penn Veterinary Hospital Library and ad hoc faculty of Poetry at Temple University. The theme of the workshop was “Dreams and Aspirations” in honor of Martin Luther King Day.
This year, on April 27th, I had the opportunity to join the 11th annual Philadelphia Walk for Peace and Reconciliation, as a representative of the Intercultural Youth Council.
Honestly, when I first arrived at the Al Aqsa Islamic Society that morning, I was unsure what to expect. As a new member of IYC, this was the first event that I had attended. I assumed that there would be a subtly diverse group of people, gathering to talk about peace and acceptance, and walking for the cause. Much of this was true – but the broad diversity, the energy and excitement towards advocacy, and the proud march through North Philadelphia are what surprised me.
The event began at the Center, where information about the day, as well as insight into this year’s focus, “Side-by-Side on Sacred Ground: Celebrating Transformations”, was shared. This was my first time ever entering a place if Islamic worship. I had been to many cathedrals, churches, synagogues, and even Buddhist centers. Putting on a head covering and taking off my shoes were more significant actions then just becoming suitable to enter the mosque, it seemed to me that they, for any non-Muslims who chose to participate, were an act of acceptance. As the group hastily became organized, and proceeded, I found that this acceptance became a theme throughout the day.
As we paraded through the streets, the large group certainly earned many looks of confusion, but again I was surprised, by the reaction of the community to our banners and presence. Despite our precautionary police escort, there was an overwhelming welcome reaction. Many people honked in support, cheered from the sidewalks, or simply smiled at our efforts. Getting to lead the procession for a good amount of the walk, and proudly carrying the banner, helped me to see the importance of what we were doing. I was able to realize that, as a member of the IYC, and of the youth movement for peace, it is important for me to help with these efforts, that adults had organized, but soon would be our turn to lead.
The next destination was a neighborhood church, which led prayer songs in their courtyard. The amazing part of this was, as people of all religions were enjoying Christian hymns, that the entire group was able to relax, and feel safe on the sacred ground of another religion.
Finally, we arrived at the church that was our final stop. The building seemed run-down outside, yet inside there was a beautiful church. This sacred ground seemed to be falling apart from the outside, but was strong on the inside, and able to house our group of different religions. Inside, a Jewish choir greeted us, and many presentations were then given, including speeches from the leaders of the walk. Following that, the stage was given to participants, and I was able to experience how diverse and talented the group truly was. There was a Jewish prayer sung, a Sikh hymn that was accompanied by drums, the pastor of the church who spoke about peace, and a Muslim prayer, which gathered all of its followers at the front of the room for a traditional prayer. IYC’s own Divya Arya also performed, presenting a description of the organization’s goals, and singing a Hindu prayer.
All of these presentations were, to me, the most impressive part of the day. I loved seeing all these different types of worship, all in the same room. Despite all the worldwide conflict that stems from religious differences, the entire day, and especially the prayers at the end, were coexistence that was nothing but peaceful.
-Isabella Dumitrescu, IYC Representative
Up until I turned twelve years old, I lived and attended school in a community where the vast majority of people did not share the same religious beliefs as I did. There was only one synagogue within a reasonable traveling distance from my house, and it was not the right denomination for my family, but we became members anyway. I am a Conservative Jew, and I represented one of about four other Jewish kids within my entire grade at a public institution. Contrary to popular assumption, I was not bullied or isolated because of my Judaism. However, there were times when it was difficult to relate with others because I do not go to Church nor do I celebrate Christmas.
During middle school, I made the switch to a private school on the Main Line. This area has proven to be a very sharp contrast from where I grew up. Here resides a terrific Jewish population, which I quickly became a part of. I was able to identify with others and participate in religious ceremonies, such as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, with my friends. These new experiences both expanded my sense of community and opened up doors for new friendships.
In hindsight, having lived in several different communities as part of both a majority and a minority has shaped me into an insightful person. Although I feel warm and comfortable when surrounded by people who share common characteristics with me, I feel just as unique and strong amongst a community where I am slightly unlike the larger number. I definitely value my religion as a part of me, but I have grown to adapt to either type of situation.
-Laurel Yaros, School Coordinator
Love marriages around the world are simple. Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy. They get married. In India, there are a few more steps: Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy. Boy's family has to love girl. Girl's family has to love boy. Boy's family has to love girl's family. Girl's family has to love boy's family.
A movie based on Chetan Bhagat's novel named 2 States made headlines the day it was released in India. Since then, Indians have actually started accepting that for a harmonious relationship, cultural differences must be eliminated. Apart from this, watching the movie with a little more concentration, I strongly found it related to the actual Indian culture. Cultural differences between people of different states have served as huge barriers socially and politically in India. 'Respecting your elders' is one of the many lessons taught from the books of ancient Indian culture. Whilst watching 2 States, you come to a point when you feel that rebellion against parents or simply running away from home could've been a better option for Krish and Ananya, the protagonists of the story who belong to two completely opposite cultural backgrounds. This movie brings out their true Indian upbringing as they faced the challenge ahead, accepting each other's cultures with utmost grace. Most importantly, they make their respective orthodox families realise how cultural differences don't matter if you're pure at heart and have love for the other.
Touching the feet of the elderly in India is not just to show you care, it gives you strength, knowledge and intellect to fight against all odds and that is the reason it is an age old tradition which gave Krish and Ananya what they desired and deserved.
-Faguni Manchanda, Jaspal Kaur Public School, New Delhi, India
It’s been over two and a half years since the United States finally withdrew from Iraq. Although there is still a U.S. presence in Afghanistan and a military prison at Guantanamo Bay, the Global War on Terror has wound down, and the (some-what related) Gulf Wars have ended. It is easy for most young suburban Westerners, particularly Americans, to forget that half a world away the struggles of the youth in the Middle East are far from over.
Three years ago, students and other malcontent young people in capitals across the Middle East took part in the Arab Spring. While the street protests have subsided, the effects of the Arab Spring still linger. From the street protests in Syria, a civil war sprouted, and it is now spreading into Iraq, having been vacated by the U.S., in the form of a “terrorist army” known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a.k.a. ISIS. As of now, ISIS now approaches the gates of Baghdad, a city of over seven million people. In a country like Iraq where, according to the UN, two thirds of the population are under the age of thirty, the future does not look promising for many young people. The wars and sectarian conflicts, that have plague the country for century, do not appear to be subsiding.
Further down the Persian Gulf, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is experiencing a similar bulge in the youth population. But in contrast to Iraq, the Kingdom does not face an external terrorist threat, in fact it is one of few Middle Eastern countries to defeat jihadist movements. Rather, the threat in the Kingdom stems from an impending succession crises. While the reigning King Abdullah has made some concessions to the youth, the young people of Saudi Arabia, particularly women who are subjected to oppressive and unequal laws, continue to fight for greater human rights through the limited means available to them. Social media, a play-thing in the West, serves as an active protest tool in the Middle East. With succession in the Kingdom appearing imminent, Saudi Arabia’s youth will have a chance to expand their protest beyond the internet. The movements have already made some progress. Recently, Saudi Arabia’s (albeit powerless) parliament expanded to include 30 women. It will be interesting to see if a new regime will offer greater support to human rights.
Back at home in the United States, these problems may seem distant. Physically, these problems dwell far away, but these are universal struggles. Throughout history, only the youth generation has advanced revolution and change. Regardless of how the future will unfold in the region, the youth of the Middle East will have a struggle as they grow older.
-Todd Gilman, Member
Global civics suggests understanding civics in a global sense as a social contract among all world citizens in an age of interdependence and interaction. Forging a global civics is necessary and yet difficult to my understanding.
Here’s the thing: we already know that we’re not in the Middle Ages, or some time in antiquity when it was impossible to, say, travel from one side of the planet to another in a matter of hours. We are no longer in those days where the only information you acquired was from books or from state channels. We have the Internet. We have planes. We have advanced ways of trading, multinational companies, supranational organizations. We have exchange students lingering around. In short, we are, undoubtedly more connected. This in itself, suffices to conclude that we cannot stick to our ancestors’ take on the issue of living and making sense of the world, for our world has already expanded our houses, our counties, even our states. Thus, to tackle issues in an ever more interconnected and interdependent world we need something; whether you call it global civics, or the struggle to survive in this hectic world is up to you. I am not picky about the names, but I am quite convinced that we need a new way of approaching life.
My strongest argument as to the necessity of a global civics would be simple rationality: if there are others whom we are to live together, we try to make use of the situation as to make it yield the greatest benefit for us, and key to great benefit is cooperation: where we use our expertise, talents, privileges, etc. for others, and in return benefit from what others have to offer us. You do not try to make sandwiches when you do not have the means to make them. You trade it with some random (or an acquaintance) person and you offer him a food product you’re better at.
As to the difficulties of establishing a global civics, I believe that the bitter truth is that the world will not ultimately become a better, a more connected, a rather peaceful place with our good intentions, or our conception of morals. No, we need systemic and institutional changes. Knowing that ending drought in state T is indeed organically related to its democratization and transparency on the one hand broadens our understanding of approaching such popular problems, but on the other hand reminds us of our onerous task which is not even nearly accomplished by simply feeding the famished population of state T. The difficulty of forging a global civics is that we realize that we are responsible to others in formerly unimaginable ways: we are not only concerned with the hunger in state T nowadays, we are, as corollary to this, also concerned with its autocratic regime and its ramifications, among them, intense suffering. We were responsible to others’ wellbeing in the past. This is no new idea. However, gradually we realize that today’s world makes us responsible on more and more accounts. The privileges of a connected word bring about their share of the burden: a burden getting heavier, as we grow closer and closer to each other.
-Cem Tecimer, student at Koc University, Istanbul, Turkey
My appearance would say I am Asian, or at least mixed, but culturally? That’s a different matter. My mother is a Korean adoptee, and although she brought her looks over with her, none of the language, food, or traditions travelled across the Pacific in the 3 year-old’s suitcase. Living with her white family in the Midwest only cemented my mother’s identity as an American.
As her daughter, I have grown accustomed to the questions many mixed race people get. “Where are you from?” is the particular favorite when someone wants to find out what kind of Asian I am without asking outright. I’ve always answered the same way - explaining that my mother is Korean - but that leaves some interrogators unsatisfied. They ask about our culture, and I am always left floundering a little. How can I say that everything I know about Korea was learned though my mother’s exploration as she got older? Nothing is a tradition passed down through my family, no one in my household speaks the language (Mom only took a semester of college Korean), and I do not even have family on the peninsula. As far as my mother is concerned (as well as myself), we are Americans and always have been. My Korean heritage is not a defining feature of my family life or myself.
Despite my lack of Korean culture, however, we try to stay in touch with my mother’s roots. I can make half decent Korean food, my sister had a hundred-days ceremony, and we both wore hanbok (traditional Korean ceremonial clothing) at certain points in our childhoods. There have been countless explorations of Korean culture and attempts to connect to my mother’s old homeland. We embrace the fact that my mother was born across the ocean, and I appreciate having a unique heritage, but when it comes down to it, we are Americans at heart.
-Kimberlyn McClendon, Vice President
When answering this question we should first define diversity, Diversity is the state of being diverse. Now lets define diverse, showing a great deal of variety; very different. A way to be diverse is by the color of your skin which may make you very different than someone else, but what about what is on the inside of you, that is what makes me different. Being different on the inside is critical because you can’t choose your heritage but you can choose your values. This is why I am perplexed by who gets chosen for certain activities, because if you are diverse then shouldn’t you be able to be treated as such and considered for leadership opportunities.
I am american and white, some people only see me as regular because there are a lot of people that have my skin color and ethnicity. I happen to have very diverse interests and I care about a multitude of things. I am often not chosen for things involving diversity because I am seen as a regular american teen, due to my ethnicity and heritage, but I don’t see myself as that. After reading this blog post try and think about how you pick and categorize people into who is diverse and who isn’t. If you want to be diverse and you are willing to put in the effort to find different interests and befriend all different people, you can be diverse! Why not try?
-Samantha Raymond, Representative of Representatives
I am a happy suburban kid, about to head off to summer camp as a counselor in training, and life is good. As someone who is hopeful for the future, and also genuinely likes kids, I was shocked when I found out that most adults in Russia want fewer and fewer kids. In fact, Russians are having so few children that their population is declining. Between 1992 and 2007, deaths exceeded births by 12.4 million. Us kids are the future; we will be living in the world adults leave us, carrying on their legacy while creating our own. Creating kids is also instinctual, and while I can understand that children are just not a priority for some people, why would so many people choose to have so few kids?
The simple answer is that these prospective parents don’t want their kids inheriting the parents’ world. While Putin is offering cash for kids deals to try and bolster his nation’s fertility rate, the average Russian woman is having 7 abortions because she does not want to see her child grow up in the current environment. In 2007 overall life expectancy in Russia ranked 164 out of 226 countries according to U.S. Census Bureau International Data Base, below Bolivia, India, and Iraq. Cardiovascular disease mortality rates, HIV/AIDS, and TB are much higher than most western European countries, and Russia ranked only 73 out of 179, right along with Mauritius and Ecuador in the United Nations Development Program’s “Human Development Index”.
As dominant world power, Russia is providing a relatively unwelcoming environment for its youth, and since the number of its youth is steadily declining, Russia’s youth will find themselves increasingly isolated amongst Russia’s older population. Russia’s adults are stuck in a dilemma; one can see it as plain irresponsible of them to have many kids when those kids seem so destined to suffer, but we can help. While America and Russia may not be on the best terms right now, a little sympathy for their population crisis is warranted. Some humanitarian aid and economic pressure on their government to invest in health care may help, but greater awareness about the environment of Russia’s youth would create greater understanding between Washington and Moscow, hopefully improving ties and life for both sides.
-Dan Matthews, Member
I took a trip to Costa Rica during my Spring Break with my high school this past April. When I went to this gorgeous country I had the most glorious and warm experience. The country in itself is beautiful, breathtaking in fact. I had the super fun opportunity of indulging in the terrific culture; from the endless mountains of delicious food to the appreciation of Nature’s outstanding beauty. Though there are many cultural aspects I adored passionately about Costa Rica, there was one thing in particular that made it impossible for me to want to leave. In my nine days of being a tourist, I had not experienced any type of prejudice due to my race.
Normally as a Black American teenaged girl, I am automatically assumed to be some sort of criminal because of my race. Usually, I will get followed around in clothing stores and receive the pestering questions of “Are you going to buy something?” or “Will you please make sure you come to the front cashier on your way out?” In the US I have gotten so used to silly questions like these that they no longer phase me. But once I went to Costa Rica where I hadn’t seen ANY other Black outside of the few on my school trip and none of the locals even noticed I felt so at ease. Knowing that this land full of people who don’t look like me actually judged me on the content of my character and not by the color of my skin. I plan on going back to Costa Rica very soon. I loved the freedom of not being a “BLACK teenager,” instead I was a “Teenager that just so happened to be Black.” This was definitely the most marvelous cross-cultural experience I’ve ever had.
-Ayan Nelson, Co-founder and Treasurer