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Valarie Kaur: A Young Leader to Watch

Valarie KaurValarie Kaur, a 2011 graduate of Yale Law School, is also an award winning documentary film maker. As the newly appointed Executive Director of a new multifaith initiative called Groundswell at Auburn, she exemplifies the young leadership that is making multifaith work so exciting today. Valarie is part of the most religiously diverse generation in American history. Coming into adulthood in "the ashes of September 11th," Valarie, like many other emerging leaders, is embracing the challenges of pluralism in remarkable new ways.

When I entered this field in the 1970's, a typical "interfaith" event included Protestants, Catholics and Jews. I remember a Jewish mentor telling me that talking to Christians was a good idea. "Tell them not to teach hateful things about Judaism and not to convert our children." Of course, there were those whose vision was greater than that, and in a future post I hope to write about the pioneers of interfaith work in America whose efforts should be honored.

But today, I want to call attention to Valarie and her generation whose spiritual drive, inclusiveness and passion for justice should hearten the most cynical soul.

Valarie was a college student when she decided to create a documentary about the first hate crime after 9/11, the killing of a Sikh. Sikhs are adherents of a religion that originated in India. Because of their turbans and beards, Sikh men are sometimes mistaken for Muslims. Valarie is a third generation Sikh American and the days after 9/11 were frightening ones for her community. The film she wrote and produced, Divided We Fall, is now widely used in teaching tolerance.

But Valarie did not stop there. She went on to become educated in other religions at Harvard Divinity School and then to acquire legal training. While in law school, she represented individuals arrested in immigration raids and helped secure a federal investigation into a local police department. In 2010, she co-founded the Common Ground Campaign, empowering young people to challenge anti-Muslim bias through creating programs for compassionate dialogue. 

Groundswell's idea of multifaith extends beyond Christians, Jews and Muslims, beyond Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs.

The Groundswell Coalition at Auburn website states, "We believe that most Americans -- people of faith, as well as atheists, agnostics and the seeking -- are hungry to tap into a calling at the core of their being. Groundswell will offer one way for us to transcend bitter polarization, identify common ground, roll up our sleeves, and work together to repair the world."

In a time of fear and weariness, I find this vision generous and hopeful. I plan to stay tuned to Groundswell at Auburn and to keep my eye on Valarie Kaur.

You can view short videos about Valarie and the film at Valarie’s website or on YouTube.