MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Welcome to America

Sara Abou Rashed
Sara Abou Rashed (Courtesy photo via Instagram)

I recently had the privilege of meeting five outstanding high school students the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio’s Beat the Odds® program was honoring for overcoming tremendous adversity, demonstrating academic excellence and giving back to their communities. One of these inspiring young people was Sara Abou Rashed.

Sara has witnessed unimaginable violence. At age 13, Sara experienced shock and horror as a bomb exploded near her school in Syria, shattering classroom windows and throwing the entire school into chaos. Despite daily dangers, she pushed through her fears and continued to attend school long after many other students had given up. As the war in Syria crept closer to her family, Sara was left no choice but to leave her home. She moved to Columbus, Ohio with her mother and grandmother. Sara knew almost no English but worked long hours and sought help from her teachers to learn the language of her new home.

While making America home, Sara learned that her father had lost his life shortly after trying to escape the violence in Syria by fleeing to Egypt. But she did not give up. By the end of her freshman year, she was on the honor roll in her Columbus school and had a firm grasp of the English language. In fact, Sara joined the poetry team and blossomed into an accomplished poet. She hopes to become a politician and inspire others to work with her to better our world.

At a moment when Americans are struggling again with who we are, who we want to be and how we teach and reinforce core values like inclusivity, civility, nonviolence and tolerance, please listen to the powerful voice of this brave young poet saying, in her own words, I, too, sing America:

“Welcome to America” by Sara Abou Rashed

Bring us your oppressed, your exhausted bodies,
your hungry, unheard crowds and we shall set them free

“I’d like to welcome you to the one and only,
the greatest America.” Says the lady
in the white shirt behind a desk.
“Now honey, please fill out all these papers,
and don’t forget to send us your story,
why you came here, your hopes and expectations.
We wish you a happy life.”

16 springs I’ve witnessed, not one
was blooming, there,
behind the shores of the Mediterranean,
everything is a martyr, there –
we don’t dare live lest we die,
even roses grow stripped of colors.

Though, the scarred walls there memorize
our names, though the tarred roads
there know our stories.

But here,
to every ally, to every town,
I must introduce myself:
No, no, I am sorry, I am not who
you think I am.
No, I am not who they say I am.
See,
I am as much of a human as you are;
I brush my teeth, I sleep, I cry when hurt and bleed when injured,
I walk the land you walk, I breathe
the same air you breathe, your American dream
is my dream, I am afraid of what you’re afraid of.

Please, don’t stop me on streets to ask what Jihad is,
don’t mistake me for one of them, don’t stare at me like an alien,
like a one-eyed, four-legged, green monster of your nightmares.

I am a woman of faith,
a citizen not a suspect.
I carry a breaking heart within, I hold mics not guns –
my story refuses to be told in bullets and word limits.

And no, I don’t celebrate the death of children,
I don’t wish to destroy homes and churches.

Trust me, I know what loss smells like:
the way fear and revolution play tug of war
on doorsteps, uproot loved ones from
framed pictures on walls, steal a father
from the dinner table – I can only hope
mine hears me now.

I know what loss smells like from a mile far, the way friends
tell you they saw your house tear asunder
like it was never there:
the old gate, the dolls, grandma’s garden and every
dream we’ve built on the roof with hands too small
to plant hatred.

Still, some fear me, they call me names, they try to break
me, to wreck me, to ricochet me, but
my spine will keep mountains standing,
my knees will only ever kneel to my Lord:

Lord, make us whole again, all of us, make us human again,
forgive us for we have sinned, and Lord,
guide them to see me for who I am, because
I, too yearn for peace, because I drop poems, not bombs.

May it be so!

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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