Peacemaking. Peacebuilding. Peacekeeping. These are such lofty words, often saved for the likes of Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela. But how did I, random Saadia, from a little suburb of Orlando, Florida, have the privilege of becoming a gatherings coordinator on the Community team for Preemptive Love?
If I had told my 16-year-old self to fast forward three decades and that I would have a job as a peacemaker, I’d have probably laughed at that thought. To my mind, being a peacemaker is not a job. Yet here I am, a peacebuilder, a peace creator, a peace spreader in the same little suburb of Orlando, Florida where I grew up.
I have always been a connector. I love listening to stories, getting to know people, and trying to understand the motive behind the actions of someone who “isn’t like me.” My desire to connect comes partly from my genes and partly from my environment. Being a child of an immigrant, I was fortunate to be exposed to diversity. Because my family frequented the mosque, I met and befriended so many folks from so many places: Pakistanis and Palestinians and African Americans and Albanians. We came together to pray, learn and get closer to God while trying to navigate living in foreign land. I remember being excited about community outreach, interfaith, service, and community potluck dinners. The mosque buffet table was set with tabouli, biryani, lasagna, and apple pie. Each visit was eclectic, exciting, and energizing.
Being at the mosque was truly a blessing and a challenge. I learned that at the mosque, I could sit with anyone from around the world, enjoy my meal, learn about their story, and ultimately become their friend. We bonded over darn good food while discussing the ups and downs of growing up as a minority in suburban America. This same philosophy would challenge me at my predominantly white school. I would wonder why I couldn’t be friends with the likes of Kassie and Sally, why they hesitated to get to know me despite my being kind and friendly. Microaggressions became macroaggressions in the classroom and at the bus stop.
I grew up and grew beyond those uncomfortable and occasionally traumatic teenage years while still convinced that sharing a story, a meal, or time together could forge connections between people. As I was earning a college degree in engineering, I attended interfaith events and honors society functions. My dream to become a peacemaker abroad got sidelined as getting a 9-5 job to earn a steady salary became the immediate priority.
Fast forward ten years, and I am married with two children. I raise my kids in the same city where I grew up. A lot has happened in those ten years: 9/11, Afghanistan, the Iraq War, drone strikes, and sanctions, to name a few. Trump campaigned along these issues, spewing rhetoric that personally affected my family: immigration, the Muslim ban, and Islamophobic tropes. It was a hard time for my family. I distinctly remember my youngest crying the day the election was called because she was afraid that “they are going to kick us out.”
Then, I randomly met a sweet, kind human named Anna at a much disliked zumba class at our local gym. (I don’t like exercise and I have no rhythm.) But, our meeting was fate. Anna approached me and told me that I was not alone, that she struggled with the divisiveness in the United States. We started meeting for coffee and ultimately decided to host a gathering of her friends and my friends to share a meal and create a greater community outside our silos.
I also remember Anna’s Preemptive Love shirts, and I would always compliment her. She told me they were from an amazing group that she followed and that I should check them out. Peacemaking nonprofit? Whoa, what’s that? That sounds pretty cool. I didn’t even know that was a thing!
Not much later, Preemptive Love led a campaign for people who were “looking to heal divides in their community.” Anna asked me if she could contact them about our newly formed group. That’s when I started really digging in. I looked at the website; I read the blogs; I fell in love and was sold. Preemptive Love, a group of peacemakers, spoke to what had always been in my heart. Soon after, Anna and I joined Preemptive Love as frontline coordinators, a dream job, where we encourage people to gather in their own communities to listen, understand, and grow empathy for those different from themselves.
I have always been someone who desires peace, and the best part is that I am not alone. If you have felt this way, please know that you are also not alone. The more we work in community to do the hard work of peacebuilding, the more success we will see. It’s also definitely more fun. Join me and others who strive to be the largest, most diverse group of peacebuilders on the planet. We would love to walk alongside you on your journey and help you create the better world our hearts know is possible. We will also encourage you to buy cool T-shirts:)
Join us in doing the work of peacebuilding with heart, humanity, and hope.