There are very few times in my life when I have felt completely helpless. One was riding in my dad’s twin Cessna plane through a storm, being buffeted by the winds and feeling sure we were all going to die. My extremely firm grip on my chair and fervent praying (hyperventilating) acted as my feeble attempts had some degree of control over the situation. The most recent occurrence happened on Jan. 27, when President Trump signed Executive Order 13769: “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” As I read countless stories of Muslim families and individuals around the country being deported, detained or denied entry, I felt powerless. I sat frozen in stunned disbelief at the direction our country was turning. I asked myself, “What can I do?” The bleak answer seemed to be, “Absolutely nothing.”
In his famous book Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl posited, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” He gathered this insight from his experience in a Holocaust concentration camp, a context in which he had very little control over his own life. Frankl realized, however, that his physical situation did not have to determine his mental reaction. Although all of the fellow prisoners had a similar surrounding environment, they responded differently. Some chose to give up, some chose to hope, and some chose to find ways to help one another. Frankl asserted that regardless of the outer circumstances, you can always choose your inner response. For me, Black History Month especially embodies people who chose to respond to the bleakest circumstances with renewed conviction, energy, and zeal for freedom. Inspiring figures such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Audre Lorde and Angela Davis all realized the power of saying, “No! Injustice does not have to define my reality. I can choose a different way.”
As I sat on my couch that Saturday evening, it was their wisdom that made me realize Trump’s executive order and the rising xenophobia in America did not have to pre-determine my response. I asked myself again, “What can I do?” This time my inner conversation was quite different. I realized, “Well, I cannot control Trump. I cannot stop all Muslim people from being affected from this ban. However, I can do something.” For me, this crucial something involved carrying a sign around campus that read: MUSLIM AND INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS, WE LOVE YOU. YOU BELONG. #AUFAMILY. No, the sign did not single-handedly stop the executive order. But it did send a message to our dear Muslim and international students that Andrews is a welcoming place for them too.
For me, this is what modern activism is all about. The realization that regardless of how hopeless the situation may seem, we can all do something. Whether that is to plan a boycott, lead a march, pray or make a sign, we can always choose to respond with love, compassion, and a commitment to freedom.