Using a combination of rap and personal stories, Mohammed Bilal delivered a lecture on Sunday entitled “Twelve Steps of Appreciating Diversity.” Bilal, a former member of MTV’s “The Real World,” was this year’s keynote speaker for Welcome Week.
Bilal opened the lecture by asking if anyone from the audience ever learned that differences were wrong. He then explained that everyone, in one way or another, is what he calls a “homogene,” a word he derived from “homogeneity.”
“A homogene is a person who, in many ways, is uncomfortable with difference,” Bilal said. He cited the examples of a black man in a room full of white people or a woman in a room full of men as cases of a “homogene.”
Admitting that one is uncomfortable with difference, Bilal said, is the first of his 12 steps to appreciating diversity. The next step is knowing yourself, which Bilal says is the only way you can “know others and be comfortable with others.”
Bilal learned, while studying his family tree, that there was a great deal of diversity among his ancestors. His great grandmother was of Native American heritage, his father’s family came from Eastern Africa and his “great-great-great-great-grandfather was a slave master who married a slave and loved her.”
“I think it is really important for everyone here to start with yourself when you learn about diversity,” Bilal said. “This idea of a pure culture, of a pure race, does not exist.”
Bilal encouraged students to look for commonalities, not differences when meeting someone of a different culture.
“You can all pick out differences,” he said. “Hopefully, you can look for commonalities apart from race.” Bilal urged the audience not to prejudge someone based on their differences.
According to Bilal, one can break the habit of prejudging someone by forming new habits of acceptance. “If you can open up to new and different things, hopefully you’ll be able to open up to new and different people,” he said. “It’s almost like you have a social muscle and if you don’t exercise it, it will atrophy.”
Bilal encouraged the audience to travel, to read and to learn another language to learn about different cultures and diversity. Finally, he said to learn the difference between prejudice and true dislike and to “turn to your source of strength to learn how to become a healthy part of this diverse community.”
Bilal closed the lecture by asking the audience to think carefully about whom they want to be when they leave the College.
“I thought the message was very powerful,” P.J. Anastasio, freshman history major, said. “(Bilal) was very well-spoken … and it will resonate well with the students.”