I don’t get angry often, but I was livid. I stood watching as hundreds of student filed past security to hear him speak. I paced the floor outside of the auditorium for the duration of the event, whipping myself into a frenzy.
My thoughts ran wild: “This was unacceptable. This was a direct assault on me and all of my fellow Jewish students. The rules never seem to apply to us, do they? How was it possible that political correctness completely ignored the rights of Jewish students? How is it possible that I am the only one who is here and upset by this? Where was the protest among the students, if not the campus as a whole, at the very least by the Jewish students? If I am already seen as the representative of my faith, don’t I need to be more proactive about defending it?” It was just too much for me to bear.
I never found out what Farrakhan actually said during his speech. It was not taped and the only discussion of the event in the student newspaper was a complaint that event security, reportedly hired by the Nation of Islam, treated students differently strictly along racial lines, but it didn’t matter. Farrakhan could have had nothing but praise for Jews and Judaism in his speech at NEIU, the fact that a person with his repugnant history was a welcome campus guest was an affront to everything I held sacred.
It is tempting for me to wonder what I might have done had I been in that auditorium. As I see that day as a turning point in my life, I like to think that I would have stood up against a largely hostile crowd and challenged Farrakhan directly, lambasting him for his racism and criticizing my peers for allowing this abomination to take place in their midst.
The truth is, even though I would eventually take an active role defeating initiatives to fund student trips to Farrakhan’s “Million Man March” as well as defeating a plan to invite Leonard Jeffries, another well-known racist, to speak on campus, I was not yet ready to lead such a charge. I may have booed and hissed during the speech, but it is very unlikely that I would have done anything beyond that, regardless of what Farrakhan said.
As I watched the students leave the auditorium after the event, and I didn’t see any form of protest, I had more than I could stand. Perhaps Jews are treated differently on campus and different rules apply to us. It was clear to me that Jews could be directly attacked on Campus in a public forum by the very symbol of American anti-Semitism with the full approval of the college administration without a whimper of protest from anyone, but I didn’t have to stand for any of that.
As I walked away I vowed to myself that something like this would never happen again as long as I was a student at NEIU! At that moment I vowed to run for Student Government and make sure this could never happen again.
I was angry and upset, and I certainly didn’t realize it at the time, but that was a watershed moment that forever changed the course of my life, transforming me from passive to active and from a timid and self-doubting follower to a vocal and assertive leader. I would no longer complain about things I did not like, I would take the initiative to change them. I vowed to change NEIU, but what I really changed most was myself, and none of it would have happened were it not for Louis Farrakhan.
Chaim Shapiro, M.Ed is a social media consultant and a freelance writer currently working on a book about his collegiate experience. He welcomes comments and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his website: http://chaimshapiro.com/