From Ed Chasteen
Every person on the planet is precious and the purpose of life is to make friends of as many of these people as possible. This is what I believe and why I started HateBusters. Who is right is the wrong question to ask before we have become friends. Then we can ask without intending to hurt one another.
When a class this fall at William Jewell College called United States Pluralism suddenly needed a teacher just a few days before the class was to begin, I got a phone call. I said I would teach the class. But I had not read the books picked by the intended teacher. The 27 students signed up for the class were shocked to see me and shocked at the direction I planned to take the course.
“I love books,” I told them. “I read books and I write books. But as much as I love books, I love people more. Books are really secondary sources. People write books. So in this class we will go directly to primary sources. I will assign each of you a new identity for the duration of this class. Each of you will be someone of another race or religion. The people you become are all friends of mine. They will visit our class and you will go off campus to visit with them. You will write the autobiography of your person and present it to the class.”
Eighteen of the 27 students signed on for our adventure in learning. I paired them with 18 of my friends who live in Greater Kansas City: Rabbi Mark Levin (Beth Torah Synagogue), Anand Bhattacharyya (Hindu), Charanjit Hundal (Sikh), Queen Mother Maxine McFarlane (Barker Memorial Cathedral of Praise), John Anderson (African-American professional story teller), Vern Barnet (Founder of Center for Religious Experience and Study), Chuck Stanford, (Buddhist Lama), Richard Maraj (born in Trinidad, Christ Church Unity Minister), Lonnie Powell, (Black artist, founder of The Light in the Other Room), Rushdy El Ghussein (Muslim, born in Gaza), Sister Marilyn Peot (Catholic nun), Al Byrd (African-American, WJC alum), Brother Louis Rodman (Director of Holy Family House, feeds the homeless), Zarrief Osman (Muslim, African-American), Al Plummer (African-American, former Director of Missouri Commission on Human Rights), Mamie Hughes (African-American, Kansas City civic leader, Zulfi Malik (Muslim, born in Pakistan), Judy Hellman (former Associate Director of Jewish Community Relations Bureau).Dick Phalen (advocate for the Palestinian cause), and Tami Greenberg (Being Gay and Raising Children), also visited with our class.
Each of these good folk visited our class and shared their lives with us. I explained to them and to the class that our prime objective was to get to know one another as persons. Anything we might learn about religion, politics or culture would be welcome but secondary to our desire to begin the process of becoming friends. None of us is born knowing anyone, and our purpose in living is to make as many friends as we possibly can. When we have done this we will be invaluable to everyone. People will want to hire us. They will ask for our opinion and our advice. They will follow us.
Will Rogers is famous for having said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” I’ve always wondered if he would have said, “I never liked a man I didn’t meet.” He might have. So I decided long ago to spend my intellectual, spiritual and social energies in meeting as wide a range of people as possible and in trying to persuade others to do so.
My students at William Jewell and I started HateBusters in 1988 when a Klansman was elected to the Louisiana Legislature and the Governor invited us to come help the state redeem itself. We went. Then we began to be invited all over the country. I left William Jewell in 1995 to devote full-time to HateBusters. HateBusters became a 501 C-3 non-profit. We never say no when asked to help. And we never charge fees.
So I could not say no when Jewell needed a teacher at the last minute. Here was an opportunity to help bright young minds understand the need of our country and the world for what I call World Class Persons, someone who can go anyplace at any time and talk to anyone about anything and feel safe. In this post 9-11 world, such an ambition seems naïve and idealistic beyond belief. But it is exactly in such times that idealism is called for.
When people call me naïve, I say, “Thank you. I mean to be. If we let the light go out, the darkness will engulf us. My faith tells me it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
Don Quixote is my hero. When his friends tell him that wickedness wears thick armor, he replies. “And for that you me surrender? Nay, the enchanter may confuse the outcome ten thousand times, still must a man arise and again do battle, for the effort is sublime.”
I told the college I would teach the class if payment were made to HateBusters. I have promised that I will spend all my time working for HateBusters, trying to extend my circle of friends. Here was a chance to include 18 college students in that circle while also helping them begin to enlarge their own circles.
Life is good.