A student stands at the front of a silent room, filled with so much emotion that he is unable to speak.
The Finding Freedom in the Land of the Free panel discussion, held Thursday evening in the Liberal Arts 2 building, began with guest speaker Maulana Karenga from the African Studies Department defining freedom to frame the conversation.
Electrical engineering major Nusdeen Salami looked over the podium and out at the diverse faces – dark-skinned, light-skinned, women in hijabs. His eyelids fell to half-mast.
A panelist, Iman Jihad Saafir, looked up at Salami and said, “Struggle builds resilience.”
“There are two kinds of freedom,” Karenga said. “… Freedom from domination, deprivation and degradation. And freedom to realize ourselves, to come into the fullness of ourselves, to realize our full potential as both individuals and groups.”
He then asked the audience of about 35 if they thought they were free.
Halimato Bruce from the CSULB Muslim Student Association, who grew up in Ghana, said she was devastated to learn that freedom is not the same for everybody after she immigrated.
“I have a brother who, unfortunately, every time he goes out my dad has to tell him to be careful and not to stay out past ten because someone might look at him the wrong way,” Bruce said. “We don’t have the freedom that we should have.”
Reggie Vincent, the CSULB African Student Union president who hosted and participated in the panel discussion, said that as a black male he sometimes feels “like a prisoner in [his] own skin.”
“Just because I’m black I get a certain kind of treatment…” Vincent said. “If I go into a restaurant or if I go into a liquor store, people follow me. It just feels like I’m always being prejudged the wrong way.”
The event also featured speaker Sister Victoria Caldwell who addressed issues concerning ethnic identity and freedom from oppression.
“The fact that you are judging someone without knowing them means that somebody has indoctrinated you,” Sister Caldwell said. “My dad was big on us thinking. He would say, ‘Don’t ever let anybody do your thinking for you.’ It’s difficult when you’ve been homegrown and fed one story, but you have to recognize that if you’ve been indoctrinated, you’ve been enslaved, basically.”
Muslim Student Association President Bilal Zaheen offered the story of his mother who is from Uganda. When the oppressive dictator Idi Amin took control of the country, her family was given 90 days to leave due to their ethnicity.
“Forty years later my mother wears a hijab in the United States and faces a different wavelength of discrimination,” Zaheen said. “Discrimination and prejudice is something that transcends cultures, religions, ethnicities, anything that is tangible.”
Zaheen said that discrimination is still happening in American society and that citizens “must take it upon ourselves to combat it.”
The Department of African Studies hosted the event with the African Student Union and the African Studies Student Association.