From Stories to Social Change: A Reflection on Valarie Kaur’s Interfaith Week Keynote Address

by Hana Ashchi

It was the first night of Interfaith Week 2014 and the event that I had been waiting for most of all. Keynote speaker, Valarie Kaur, shared her story and the importance of making change and incorporating interfaith cooperation within our society. As a Sikh woman, Kaur has gone through a lot of challenges since 9/11. Kaur came to UNF to speak about these stories as well as others to show how one person’s story can start a movement.

Looking around the room, I noticed that everyone was just as engaged with Kaur and her powerful storytelling as I was. I had never felt so many emotions all at once until now. I laughed, cried, and even felt anger when hearing about how much ignorance we have in our country. I didn’t think that such hateful people actually existed in our world, but Valarie Kaur opened my eyes to the real world and what actually happens to people of different races, ethnicities, religious beliefs and even just by their skin color.

I had always been aware of how powerful it is to share your story, but I didn’t think I could start a movement by it. Valarie showed me that one story could make a difference in so many lives. Being able to hear one person speak about what motivates them to do interfaith work or what motivates them to fight for justice is just as powerful as a person wearing a badge or uniform.

Listening to her stories about her grandfather and his struggle as a Sikh man reminded me of my grandfather and how he struggled as a Baha’i man during a time of war in a country that didn’t really accept many faiths. This showed me what it truly means to be as an interfaith leader. Kaur’s passion that night reminded me of the passion that I have and why I do interfaith work.

After the event had ended, I decided to stay and meet Valarie. I wanted to thank her for such an inspiring night and that I felt as if we bonded that evening. Interfaith Week 2014 has been the most inspiring, eye-opening, absolutely wonderful experience that I will cherish even after I graduate. I met people who I never thought I would get the chance to meet. I did activities that I never thought I would be a part of and I built friendships that will last me a lifetime. I even got Twitter recognition from Valarie Kaur, which was a bonus as well.

Out of all the Interfaith Week events, this would have to be my favorite one. So much love and inspiration all in one room was a great way to experience, and begin to close, my senior year here at UNF.

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