Sunday, February 27, 2011


I wrote in a previous post about the United States being founded on strong democratic pillars but continuing to work on fulfilling the promise of its ideals with each passing year.  The civil rights movement in the 1960s was one of those critical efforts that brought us closer to that promise.  As I watch the uprising in the Arab world, I can't help but remember passages from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech.  I realize some of those ideals are uniquely American, but hopefully they're spreading like wildfire.  Instead of posting excerpts, I'm going to post the entire text below and a link to the video of the speech HERE.  So much of what he said back then resonates today across the ocean.  Have a read or a listen.  And, please say a little prayer or light a candle for the Libyan people whose persecution continues.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
"I Have a Dream"

(Delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.)

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."¹

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
                 Free at last! Free at last!                
                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!


Friday, February 25, 2011

The Syrians' Turn

As the Arab people rise up in one country after another, I can't help but think of Syria every day.  I'm one of the lucky Lebanese who escaped the Syrian snipers, Syrian checkpoints and Syrian bombs.  During Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, thousands of Lebanese were killed and thousands of others just disappeared and were never heard from again.  Where did they go?  The Syrian army and intelligence service rounded them up and we assume tortured and murdered them.  

Their crimes also include the murder of a Lebanese president-elect, a Lebanese prime minister and many other politicians, writers and journalists.  They have devastated Lebanon and the Lebanese in so many ways and continue to do so even though it’s less obvious today.

In case you’re thinking I’m bitter because of what side of that war my family was on, you should know this:  The Syrian regime hasn’t been any kinder to its own people.  Much like Egypt's Mubarak, Libya's Gaddafi and Iraq's Hussein, the Assad family has ruled with an iron fist to keep its people down.  Rivers have turned red from the blood of those massacred by the authorities, and that's not an exaggeration.  The elder Assad used tanks, artillery and air bombardment to level the city of Hama after the Muslim Brotherhood revolted in the early 1980s, killing thousands.  (See Thomas Friedman’s reflection on the Hama massacre from 2005 in the New York Times HERE.)

Then there's the small matter of Syria’s dictators backing and doing the dirty work of the Iranians, Russians, Hamas, Hezbollah and any other government or terrorist group looking for support or an intermediary to do its evil deeds.  

So, what now?  The Syrians are good people who have suffered far too long.  I hope and pray they seize this historical moment and rise up against the lies, greed, crimes and tyranny of their dictator.  It won’t be easy, but life is far too short to suffer quietly for all these decades and all these generations.  I pray they muster the courage to reclaim their dignity and their country. 

Peace, my brothers and sisters, is indeed overrated.    

A Lebanese-American

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Note to the Arab People

As an immigrant to the United States from your part of the world, I am so thrilled that your sacrifices, courage and persistence are bearing fruit.  I am following your efforts and cheering you on every day.  I should also tell you that every American I know is cheering you on. 

We are filled joy and hope for your future, and we are determined to help you and stand with you.  You see our country was born out of a revolution too.  The early Americans fought, organized and struggled against tyranny.  They started with nothing and from nothing.  They, like you, took huge risks and suffered countless casualties to reach that day of unlikely victory.  But, while our independence from Great Britain was a major turning point in our history, it was only the beginning of a lot of work that shaped this country.     

What followed independence was simply awesome!  The land’s best minds came together to create the pillars upon which this great nation stands today.  It was a messy process with a number of false starts and much disagreement and debate, but what resulted has sustained this great country for more than 223 years.  Those pillars didn’t eliminate all injustice and free the enslaved; they didn’t immediately produce peace and prosperity; and they sure didn’t solve every social ill.  But they have guided us toward a more perfect nation with every passing year.  They are solid, strong and unshakable pillars that have withstood a bloody civil war, much strife, economic devastation, and many social and political movements of both the violent and nonviolent kind.

So, as you risk everything and turn your world upside down in the quest for freedom and democracy, I hope you deliberately choose strong foundations that will last for hundreds of years as ours have.  Our founding fathers were far from perfect, but they were intent on creating a country in which its people are its epicenter. I pray that this is only the beginning of your progress and that you, the people, are the epicenter of your new systems of government. 

I heard the criticisms when I went back home some years ago, especially this one:  “The U.S. is only 200+ years old but we have thousands of years of history and culture.  What can you possibly teach us?” I also heard much about U.S. foreign policy not being true to the ideals we hold sacred inside our country and that the U.S. exploits the rest of the world for its own gain. There's more than one kernel of truth in those and many other criticisms, and our nation is not yet perfect.  But our founding fathers were principled and honorable as you are, and the results of their work speak for themselves.  So for the sake of your nations' next 200 years, I hope you take a look at what has worked here, liberally copy from our founding principles and consider embracing any or all of our ideals.  I'm fairly confident today's Americans won't mind one bit.

Lastly, in the coming months and years, please don’t forget that you are our brothers and sisters in struggle—no matter your religion, skin color or political convictions.  We share your hopes and dreams and we stand with you with open hearts and minds.


A Lebanese-American

p.s.:  The documents outlining the pillars of our great democracy make for inspiring reading material.  The links are below, but I have to warn you that you may very well get emotional reading.  I know I do.  
  1. The Declaration of Independence--The document that started it all.   
  2. The Constitution--Solid but flexible enough to remain at the core of our nation.  
  3. The Bill of Rights--This is central to many of the freedoms we enjoy.  It is truly an amazing document. 
Images of all three original documents are available in case you want a little extra magic and inspiration. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

For Our Daughters

As right-wing conservatives launch one attack after another on civilization and women in particular, this poem comes to mind.  For God's sake, let's not go backwards.  It took many, many years and the sacrifices of countless women to get here.  For our daughters' sake, let's be vocal and stop the madness.

Aint I a Woman?

By Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)

That man over there say
     a woman needs to be helped into carriages
and lifted over ditches
     and to have the best place everywhere.
Nobody ever helped me into carriages
   or over mud puddles
      or gives me a best place. . .
And ain't I a woman?
     Look at me
Look at my arm!
     I have plowed and planted
and gathered into barns
     and no man could head me. . .
And ain't I a woman?
   I could work as much
and eat as much as a man--
   when I could get to it--
and bear the lash as well
   and ain't I a woman?
I have born 13 children
     and seen most all sold into slavery
and when I cried out a mother's grief
     none but Jesus heard me. . .
and ain't I a woman?
     that little man in black there say
a woman can't have as much rights as a man
     cause Christ wasn't a woman
Where did your Christ come from?
     From God and a woman!
Man had nothing to do with him!
     If the first woman God ever made
was strong enough to turn the world
     upside down, all alone
together women ought to be able to turn it
     rightside up again.

This poem is from Sojourner Truth's most famous speech, adapted into poetic form by Erlene Stetson.  Click here for Truth's biography.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fuel Someone Different

During my senior year in college, I took a course on the history of the civil rights movement, taught by one of the few African American professors on campus.  Like many in his generation, he participated in the movement.  He volunteered, organized and marched with the greats, felt the triumphs and the heartbreaks, and was still plugging away in the early 1990s at shaping the future through his teaching.

I had reached that point in my education without learning much about the movement and Martin Luther King, Jr., so I devoured everything he had to offer.  I was enthralled by every lecture, every speech, every letter and every book.  I simply loved every bit of it.

At the end of the semester, I finished my exam early and began to walk out of the class.  The professor followed me and asked if I have a minute to talk.  Standing just outside the classroom, he said, "Don't stop now," referring to my upcoming graduation.  While I don't remember exactly what followed, the essence of his words was something like this:  Use your brain and your heart.  Learn more and do more.  There are scholarships out there.  Go on and get graduate degrees and share what you know.  There's no limit to what you can do.

I was floored.  I had no idea he thought highly of my ability.  I was flattered and grateful that he intentionally reached out to me to encourage me and let me know he had high hopes and expectations for my future.  

I was particularly touched because very few people had taken the time to say such things to me—not in this country.  Ten years earlier, I was the awkward kid who couldn't make it through the school day without consulting my thick Arabic-English dictionary.  I knew precious little about American history or culture.  I was an immigrant who looked, dressed, spoke and acted a bit strangely for the all-American kids in my suburban school, which made friendships, compliments and plain old conversation difficult to come by. 

Most likely, this professor does not remember me or what he said to me. But to this day, I still remember and I marvel at how such kind words can give a young person so much fuel to go out into the world and make a difference.  

When was the last time you encouraged, praised or set high expectations for a young person?  Start with the people you see every day--the intern at the office, a young associate, a fast food worker, your child’s classmate, and so on.  One last thing...In honor of Black History Month and in this time of strong anti-immigrant rhetoric, make a point of reaching out to someone who's different--in skin color, ethnicity, language, religion, or whatever.  You may just fuel something or someone awesome.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Pass it on...

Every once in a while, I will post the writings of someone else who's managed to say something more powerfully than I could ever say it.  Here's one of those. The poem below was recited by George Washington Carver during his commencement address at Selma University in Selma, Alabama on May 27, 1942.  It's as inspiring as anything I have ever read.  What if every child believes and internalizes its message?  Imagine the possibilities.  Pass it on.


by Edgar A. Guest

Figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You've all that the greatest of men have had,
Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes,
And a brain to use if you would be wise.
With this equipment they all began,
So start for the top and say "I can."
Look them over, the wise and great,
They take their food from a common plate
And similar knives and forks they use,
With similar laces they tie their shoes,
The world considers them brave and smart.
But you've all they had when they made their start.
You can triumph and come to skill,
You can be great if only you will,
You're well equipped for what fight you choose,
You have legs and arms and a brain to use,
And the man who has risen, great deeds to do
Began his life with no more than you.
You are the handicap you must face,
You are the one who must choose your place,
You must say where you want to go.
How much you will study the truth to know,
God has equipped you for life, But He
Lets you decide what you want to be.
Courage must come from the soul within,
The man must furnish the will to win,
So figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You were born with all that the great have had,
With your equipment they all began.
Get hold of yourself, and say: "I can."

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Reflection

While I want to resist commenting on the news of the day, developments in Egypt have me looking back on my first beloved city, Beirut.  I worte the piece below about a year ago as a reflection on the state of Beirut during my time there in the 1970s and 1980s. While the nature of the unrest is very different, it has as much potential to get ugly.  I sincerely hope Cairo and its boys (and girls) fare better.

For the Boys

Stores are closed; buildings seem empty.
Streets are deserted, littered, silent and dusty.
Where in the world have they gone?
The children’s voices, the birds, the crickets,
The street vendors, the car horns, the school buses.
They’ve all gone away, scattered like terrified prey.
But the boys--they are here to stay.
Yes, the boys with their AK47s, RPGs and grenades.
Their jeeps speed through the city, patrolling they say.
But there’s no one to watch over; no living soul needs care.
The tanks roll through with nothing leading the way,
No purpose, no ideal, no moral or value to spare.
Fighting for a cause long forgotten, an enemy without a face.
There are no laws, no reverence and no grace.
I pray for this country—Lord, for the boys I pray.
Born into war, darkness, hate and despair.
I pray they know the sweet scent of roses and jasmine past, before death and decay.
I pray they find love, hope, joy, a future --and peace if they dare. 
For the boys, Lord I pray.

I welcome your reactions.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Positive Core

Identifying the "Positive Core" is central to Appreciative Inquiry, a method of positive organizational change pioneered right here at Cleveland's own Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management.  The positive core is the unique essence of an organization or, dare I say, person.  It's the sum of the assets and strengths and what makes an organization/person perform at the highest level.  

In case you're reading this and thinking it's academic jargon, think again.  Consider your unorganized child who tries your patience every day--from the disastrous bedroom to the overflowing desk, messy backpack, terrible handwriting and so on.  Very frustrating and worrisome.  Doesn't little Johnny know by now that unless he can find his notebooks he can't do his homework?  How could he not see that only if the teacher can read his writing will he get credit for the correct answers?  How do we fix his problem?  Just what will make him comply?  Infuriating.  Isn't it?  

While the name was changed to protect the innocent, this child isn't exactly a fictional character. Instead of spending a lifetime fixing him, let's figure out what he's really good at.  By asking the right questions and observing when he performs at his best, we see his positive core.  It turns out he's brilliant (with test scores to prove it) and excels at so much when given the opportunity--math, reading, basketball, piano, etc.  He also has a heart of gold and is determined to change the world.  So what does a parent do with this knowledge?  Continue correcting him and explaining the shortfalls?  No.  Amplify the positive!  Exactly how best to do that isn't simple, but it's clear that there's so much to work with and build on. Identifying the positive is the starting point.

I feel the same way about my beloved city, Cleveland.  Once a leading manufacturing center, it fell on hard times much like other urban areas.  So many efforts by well-meaning people to find the magic bullet have launched and fizzled.  The questions have gone like this:  How do we fix Cleveland?  How can Cleveland become the next (fill in the blank...Silicon Valley, etc.)?  How and do we work to bring back manufacturing?  Is our future in high tech?  Is it biotech?  Is regional government the way to go?  What about the school system?  The drop-out rate?  The lack of vision and direction?

Let's STOP the madness.  We don't want to be like any other place.  Let's turn the questions on their heads.  How about asking ourselves and each other questions that reveal the gold in Cleveland's heart?  What if we start with some of these:  How can we capitalize on our incredibly valuable Lake Erie and our enviable international port?  How do we best celebrate our ethnic and racial diversity?  How can we build on our history of industrial prominence and our unrivaled ability to make things?  How do we utilize and support our amazing cultural, academic and healthcare institutions?  Most importantly, how do we recognize, reward and build on the unmatched work ethic, resilience and generosity of our people?

If I've learned anything from those pioneers at Weatherhead, it's this:  The question begins the change.  Let's start by asking the right questions and the answers will come.  Cleveland has a soul.  It has assets and strengths by the bucket load.  Let's identify our beloved city's positive core and amplify it.  I pledge to do my part.  How about you?