By Kelly Douglas
Special to The Commercial Appeal
Last year, the father of one of my fourth-grade students asked if it would be OK for his son, Inam, to tell classmates about a new charity.
Inam’s birthday fell in December, a time when many would already be in the mindset of giving.
“Why not?” I told Dr. Nadeem Zafar I loved the idea.
When it came time for Inam’s birthday, I was pleasantly surprised at what unfolded in our fourth-grade classroom; Inam created a short Power Point presentation to show the class. He told us the beautiful story of two faith communities who gave gifts to each other — gifts of friendship.
We all enjoyed hearing about how they were working together to build an incredible new park nearby and were even more interested in the park’s origin.
Here is Inam’s story in his own words:
“The Friendship Park was an idea created by Heartsong Church and Memphis Islamic Center. The idea was that the Friendship Park would promote friendships from every religion, culture, race, etc.
“It all started when Memphis Islamic Center started building their building across the street from Heartsong Church. Heartsong put up a banner that said, “Welcome Muslims from MIC.” Heartsong also gave the Muslims a room to pray in. Ever since, they have been friends. The Friendship Park will include water slides, butterfly gardens, rock climbing walls, and more.”
As a teacher at Lausanne, my favorite thing about this story is its diversity of cultural and religious backgrounds. Lausanne kids are confident in who they are as individuals as well as their heritage.
With 48 different countries represented by our student body, Lausanne celebrates everything: Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid, Easter, Passover, Diwali, etc. etc. etc. It’s fun for kids to teach each other about what makes their family unique. Everyone is honored.
Inam’s presentation about the Friendship Park project was a natural fit at Lausanne, where global-minded thinking is part of everyday life, as are deep, meaningful relationships. It’s also a place where students are empowered to seek their own journeys and build character through service to others, something that Inam demonstrated in raising our awareness about Friendship Park and the Memphis Friendship Foundation.
After Inam’s presentation, his peers raised more than $100 to contribute to the Memphis Friendship Foundation in honor of their friend, his birthday and his efforts to help support the building of Friendship Park.
Even in the fourth grade, we all got it when he said the formation of the Friendship Park was “SO Lausanne.”
Founders of Friendship Park are hosting a free community picnic from noon-2 p.m. today on the grounds where the park will be built at 800 N. Houston Levee Road.
The picnic will include food from five ethnic groups, along with a petting zoo for kids, a tour and a 20-minute presentation on the park. For reservations, visit memphisfriendshipfoundation.org.
Kelly Douglas is a fourth-grade teacher at Lausanne Collegiate School.
By Sarah Naids
Special to The Commercial Appeal
After witnessing several instances of discrimination and bigotry in my school and community, I began to search for other cases of discrimination.
Sure enough, I found them. I read horrific accounts of the Murfreesboro mosque conflict, the protests by the Westboro Baptist Church and the Quran burnings in Florida.
I asked myself why anyone would commit these offensive acts, and remembered what my rabbi always tells me: “We are ‘others’ to some. We are ‘outsiders’ to many.”
So when a different group of people is made an ‘other,’ we should be the first to embrace them and help them combat whatever forces oppress them.”
I set out to do precisely that — to stand up, to cause change, and not merely to wonder why I experienced such intolerance and discrimination. I asked myself how I could begin to remove the obstacle of bigotry. Combating ignorance, I believed, was the first step.
I approached the Facing History teacher at Houston High School, Michael Robinson, about my desire to help fight for human rights, and asked him to help me start an educational lecture series titled “Tear Down the Walls.” The project brings in distinguished community members to address contemporary issues such as racial injustice, religious discrimination and socioeconomic division.
So far, there have been six lectures, each attended by at least 50 students and a dozen teachers, exposing my peers to ideas that they may never have learned about otherwise. Topics have included Islam, the American civil rights movement, Judaism, Buddhism, second-generation Holocaust survivors, and apartheid in South Africa. Talks about women’s rights and treatment of the physically and mentally disabled are still to come.
I expected that acting on my passion would be a challenge, and it has been. I have been called “a problem-causer” and “a hippie liberal.” Some of my close friends have tried to convince me that the struggle for peace and acceptance is futile. But I intend to fight anyway for the “others” and for the “outsiders.”
My eyes have been opened to the needs of these “outsiders” in the world, and as a member of a historically ostracized group of people, I feel especially obligated to assist them. For the consciousness that I have reached by witnessing prejudice around me, I will always be grateful.
Sarah Naids, a senior at Houston High School, was awarded the 2012 Princeton University Prize in Race Relations for founding a diversity lecture series at her school. A recognition ceremony will be held 5-6:30 p.m. May 22 at the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis.