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Editor's note: Eboo Patel is founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based nonprofit that promotes interfaith cooperation. He adapted this from his On Faith blog posted by The Washington Post:
Author, Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.
I discovered in the African American tradition – the poetry of Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks, the novels of Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison, the scholarship of Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates, the sermons of Martin Luther King and, yes, Jeremiah Wright - a way of being that gave an honored place to my heritage as an Indian and a Muslim, and an invitation to bring those parts of me to the American project, which is fundamentally about people from the four corners of the earth building a nation together.
When I first moved back to Chicago in late 2001 to start the Interfaith Youth Core, it seemed like I heard Jeremiah Wright’s name mentioned every place I turned. All kinds of people –rich folk and poor folk, traditionalists and progressives, young people and old people, black and white, believers and atheists – told me I had to go see him preach.
Nobody said anything about radical politics or hating America or stirring up a race war. The one word I heard used in reference to Jeremiah Wright over and over again was the word that University of Chicago divinity professor Martin Marty used to describe his ministry: “Hope”.
Here is what I remember most about that morning: At the end of the service, Reverend Wright read aloud a letter that a young woman had sent him. She had grown up in the congregation, was now studying for a PhD in oceanography, and was writing to thank Reverend Wright and Trinity for all they had done to support her.
This is what we’re about, Jeremiah Wright said, waving the letter from the pulpit, proud enough to be her own father. The congregation cheered wildly.
At this point, everyone has an image of Jeremiah Wright. But that moment made a lasting impression.
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