• Conversations on Diversity

    A blog by Eboo Patel, Mary Ellen Giess and Tony Banout that looks at identity and diversity issues from multiple angles.

Title

What Time Away Can Mean for the Work Ahead

Reflecting on the summer, and all that’s to come.

September 3, 2019
 
 

I couldn’t have asked for a better summer.

I began most mornings with my Ismaili Muslim prayers and a few minutes of silent meditation. I did my best to stay away from the constant drumbeat of current events and instead focus on larger themes and bigger ideas. Every time I came across the words "Donald Trump", I clicked on something else – both actually and metaphorically. 

I finished a draft of a new book tentatively titled Diversity is not Just the Differences You Like: Multicultural Leadership in the Era of Identity Politics.

The nonprofit I run, IFYC, completed a new strategic plan.

I saw the exhibit on the Bauhaus at the Getty in Los Angeles, the stunning "The Warmth of Other Suns" show on refugees at the Phillips Collection in DC, the retrospective on Virgil Abloh at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and remarkable murals at multiple museums in Mexico City.

I took in Frankenstein at Lookingglass Theater and True West at Steppenwolf.

I watched the first five seasons of Game of Thrones, listened to episode after episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast, and enjoyed Chuck D’s narration of the history of The Clash. 

I saw a whole host of commercial movies, and a bunch of art films as well. My favorite: The Farewell. Tied for second place, all the movies and documentaries I saw about artists:

  • Blinded by the Light, about a South Asian Muslim kid in 1980’s Luton who finds his identity in the music of Bruce Springsteen;
  • The Pieces I Am about Toni Morrison
  • David Crosby: Remember My Name
  • Echo in the Canyon about the birth of folk rock in Laurel Canyon in the 1960’s

I saw favorite artists in concert – Dead and Co, Brandi Carlisle, Andrew Bird, Mark Knopfler – and also some new music (for me), including the Mekons. Their song ‘Lawrence of California’ kept me singing out loud all summer.

I went to Wrigley a half dozen times, including the game where Willson Contreras hit a grand slam against the hated White Sox.

I went on bike rides and runs. I tried my hand at surfing and climbed the third largest pyramid in the world.

I read fiction by Laila Lalami, Colum McCann and Sandra Cisneros. I flew through Eli Saslow’s Rising Out of Hatred, a remarkable book about how a college campus changed a white supremacist. I spent time with Jill Lepore’s These Truths and The Case for the Nation, Arthur Brooks’ Love Your Enemies, Adam Gopnik’s A Thousand Small Sanities, Anthony Kronman’s The Assault on American Excellence, Irshad Manji’s Don’t Label Me, Miroslav Volf’s Flourishing, David Blight’s Frederick Douglas: Prophet of Freedom, Eric Liu’s Become America, David Byrne’s How Music Works and Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen The Ideas That Made America.

I got away to small-town Michigan three times to write, went to an Indian-Muslim wedding in Houston, had meetings in Washington DC, attended a conference in Colorado Springs (my first time there), went on a retreat for nonprofit leaders in Stowe and took family vacations to San Diego and Mexico City.

I gave a talk on Islam at Pepperdine and one on religious diversity to a group of college administrators in Atlanta. I spoke about our collective responsibility to build ‘the American Potluck’ at IFYC’s Interfaith Leadership Institute (our largest ever – I’ll post the text later this week) in Chicago, and I co-led a faculty seminar on Interfaith Studies with friend and mentor Laurie Patton.  

I reconnected with old friends and spent tons and tons of time with my family, much of it on Little League baseball fields (I think Little League is one of America’s most remarkable inventions).

I revived my intellectual love affair with Jane Addams, who I am convinced is the most important American figure to study and emulate right now.

I hope to pour all of this thinking, listening and viewing into my writing, teaching, speaking and strategizing this year. Part of the beauty – and responsibility – of stepping back intellectually is to bring all of that forth in ways that are helpful to a public.

Speaking of this blog, I’m making a couple of changes that I hope you’ll like.

One, I’ll continue to write regularly, but my pieces will probably be slightly rougher - more along the lines of “here’s something I’ve been thinking lately” rather than a polished OpEd. Partially this is because blogging invites the former, and partially because I’m using the polish I’ve got to finish the book I mentioned earlier.

Two, I’ve invited a couple of friends to join me in a formal way on this blog. Both are colleagues at IFYC who also think long and hard about identity and diversity issues. I’ve long sought out their views, including asking for feedback on drafts of pieces that appear here. I thought you would enjoy their musings as well.

You will hear from them in the next few days.

 

 

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