A letter was sent to Wasif Qureshi, president of the Islamic Center for Greensboro (North Carolina) requesting that Muslims should “be less visible.” The writer indicated that his customers were bothered by Muslims being so close to his business.
When I read the first few paragraphs describing this incident in my local paper, the News and Record, my first thoughts were– Hum, sounds like telling gays to just not flaunt their sexuality, or Blacks should just not act so “black,” or Latinos should speak English. After I took a breath– a pause– I read on. Thankfully, Mr. Qureshi decided to turn this lemon letter into lemonade.
I want to believe the author of the letter had no malice in his heart. He was just trying to protect his business, and had no idea how biased and bigoted his request was. One of the tenets I share in all of my unconscious bias workshops and keynotes is to assume positive intent. After I paused, I was able to refrain from assuming this was yet another hate letter. Even if it was, Mr. Qureshi decided to respond with positive and peaceful action.
Here’s a little background to provide context before I tell you what Qureshi did. On February 1, 1960 four African-American freshman college students decided to sit at the Woolworth’s lunch counter and ask to be served, knowing that Blacks were not allowed to do so due to Jim Crow laws of the time. This non-violent action sparked sit-ins across the country. Greensboro later honored this courageous act by renaming the street on which Woolworth’s sits February 1 Street. The Woolworth’s building is now the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.
So Qureshi decided that instead of being angry or insulted he would turn this incident into the first Peace Festival of Greensboro! It was held on February 1 Street, and in the International Civil Rights Center. Ten people were expected, but two hundred people gathered representing many faiths and beliefs. A giant prayer rug was placed on the street and Muslims prayed for peace and understanding. Qureshi believed one person’s dream could make a difference. He pursued his dream, and brought a community together for peace.
The power of Qureshi’s pause enabled him to have a vision for change, and the courage to make it happen. I look forward to personally experiencing the second annual festival next year.
Each of us can find ways to become less silent in this revolution for peace and understanding. We just have to take the first step.