Who would’ve thought that doing my taxes would be such an emotional bombshell. Going through my credit card statement chronologically starting from January 2020, it was impossible not to see the powerful effect of the pandemic on my emotional state.
It started with a British Airways ticket to Geneva, Switzerland, where I spoke at the UN headquarters to an auditorium full of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian clerics and leaders on the topic of religious freedom as it relates to protecting our youth from radicalization. It was only a five minute talk, but I think it was one of the best I have ever given. Speaking from my heart about my own experiences, I challenged these dedicated leaders to consider whether we as parents were giving our own children religious freedom. The talk was intense and the response was powerful. It was a wonderful moment of personal fulfillment and feeling like my hard work was making a difference. On the flight back to Vancouver BC, I was thinking about my next trip, in March, to speak to another high profile international interfaith organization at a conference in Qatar. I couldn’t have been more excited about the future.
The next entry was a 1400 mile road trip down the I-5 back to San Diego. Mom was having serious health issues and we ended up in the emergency room followed by a five day stay in the hospital. On the very day I got mom settled back in at her retirement home, they locked the place down. Needless to say, the conference in Qatar was canceled.
It took about three months for the weight of the pandemic to bear down on my psyche. I could see in my expenses that I was still working hard looking for opportunities to talk about my book and to bring people together through my nonprofit, SalaamUSA.org, through about June. By the end of June, things had trickled to a stop.
And it’s been almost a year. Surfing with my daughter kept me going. Good exercise, time in the beautiful ocean, and meaningful interaction with someone who was so important to me. But the days when there was no surfing grew very long. Towards the end I considered it a victory to get myself out of the house and take a walk. My success rate was less than 50%.
From international flights and conferences to barely convincing myself to get out of the house from day to day. In one year’s time. Honestly I don’t even recognize myself right now.
Now that I and most of my family and friends are vaccinated, we are working our way back to normalcy. I’ve been enjoying quite a few in person get-togethers, and even spent the majority of a recent weekend out of the house and socializing. But it feels like it’s going to take some time to recover and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get back to the same joyful exhilaration I had when I was in Geneva. Just taking it one day at a time right now.
All the downtime allowed me to do a lot of reading and take some online courses. The focus of my learning has been about relearning American history from the perspective of Black and Native Americans, and learning about my own privilege and unconscious participation in systemic racism.
It helped me to see a bigger picture – that anti-Muslim sentiment is only one facet of a far bigger picture of racism and white supremacy that has continued since our nation’s founding. My personal mission in my writing and the mission of SalaamUSA.org have broadened accordingly.
On the upswing, I organized an online Muslim awareness event for Ramadan on May 6 with my local community interfaith group. It was an exciting event because the vast majority of the attendees were first-timers and not interfaith regulars. I’m excited about working within my own community and bringing people together across all the human divisions. We are gaining a nice little foothold in Pacific Beach, San Diego.
In the broader context, I’ve been working with another very committed volunteer and we have developed a program to facilitate bringing diverse people together for meaningful connection. I’ve called it Real Friends, Real Community. We’ve completed a pilot group that was wonderfully diverse on many levels and demonstrated that it is possible to connect meaningfully and deeply, across all of our differences. With this little bit of success, we submitted a grant proposal to the San Diego Episcopal diocese and received a significant bit of funding. We are working hard to get a few more groups fired up and to develop training materials for groups and group leaders. The National Center for Conflict Resolution has agreed to offer training, so we’re very excited about that.
The idea of an intentionally diverse group of people coming together for meaningful interaction is based on the notion that true community should be a reflection of the diversity that physically surrounds us. If we’re meeting only with people who are like us in appearance, beliefs, etc., when our communities are full of people who are different than us, then our groups are more like tribal groups than community groups. Like it or not, this is the world we have created for ourselves. We can be anywhere in a day, and we all simultaneously share the same universe of information. Most urban areas and metropolitan centers are teeming with diversity. Human sociology needs to adapt to this new reality.
Real Friends, Real Community is a program to help us do that. It’s not something that most people naturally choose to do. But I’m convinced that if we don’t learn to make time to be in community with people who represent the diversity that surrounds us, our society will continue to fragment and break down.
We have opportunities on several levels:
- Be a group facilitator. We’ll provide all the training you need.
- Be a group member.
- Help us connect with potential group members. We especially need help connecting with people who are not in the white Christian demographic – African-Americans, Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, recent immigrants, LGBTQ, those from other faiths, etc. Your help here would be greatly appreciated.
If you are interested on any level, please feel free to reach out to me directly by phone or email (520.250.1049, email@example.com). Or you can visit our website by clicking on the LEARN MORE button and filling out the form.
Real Friends, Real Community
I think we can all feel the desperation of the times we are living in. Multiple threats confront us – climate catastrophe, the fall of American democracy, the resurgence of overt white supremacy, right wing nationalism popping up all over the world. Political activism is important, but I find myself drawn more to activism on the grassroots level. An activism that changes hearts. Thank you for your partnership.
Steve Slocum – Founder and President of Salaam
Special offering from Salaam board member, Siddika Jessa