“Strength Is the Hallmark of Youth”
Nefertiti Morris creates a harmonious family by changing herself first.
by Nefertiti Morris
I was attending Indiana University in 2004, when my mother and four of her children moved in with me and my college roommate. She had just left my stepfather, and had nowhere else to go.
As someone who was born into the Buddhist practice, I had received the Gohonzon two years earlier, when I started college. My roommate had heard about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, but seeing my mom persevere in faith with a never-give-up spirit inspired my roommate to begin practicing SGI Nichiren Buddhism only a few months later. Soon after, my mom was hired by Indiana University, where she continues to work to this day, steadily building bridges for urban youth in the Community and School Partnerships program.
With my mom and roommate chanting, I started reconnecting with my SGI roots and began my own daily practice. As I began chanting about what I wanted to do with my life, I ended up at the Parsons School of Design in New York.
There, I became a district young women’s leader and threw myself into SGI activities. I was discovering what it was like to be a young, independent woman, running forward for kosen-rufu, and I helped four friends receive the Gohonzon.
In 2008, my father died. Fortunately, we had repaired our relationship, but his death still left me feeling abandoned and alone, just like I felt as a child when my parents divorced and my mother remarried.
I moved home to Indiana after graduating from design school, and that’s where I began what I considered a serious relationship. When we broke up, I learned that I was pregnant, but my ex-boyfriend denied paternity. Once again, I was reliving the same feelings of abandonment.
During that difficult time, I continued to make causes for my happiness by building relationships with the young women’s division members. In downtown Indianapolis, a new SGI-USA center opened, and a friend of mine received the Gohonzon at the opening celebration.
I’ll never forget the support I received from fellow SGI members. One member shared a story about a woman who had almost committed suicide after losing her husband. While standing on a platform, ready to jump in front of a train with her baby on her back, she met a member who encouraged her to start chanting. She did, and ended up happily married again, this time as a champion for kosen-rufu who was committed to helping others overcome their despair. Her son had also become a strong SGI member.
He was the person telling me his story. That touched me so deeply. SGI President Ikeda’s encouragement to young people also inspired me to keep pressing forward. He writes: “Youth means grappling with all kinds of problems. It means resolving them, in spite of all difficulties, pushing aside the dark clouds of despair and advancing toward the sun, toward hope. This strength is the hallmark of youth” (Discussions on Youth, p. 5). I determined to never give up hope.
When my daughter, Masami, was born, my ex still denied paternity. I was really struggling to create the happy family that I had always wanted. In the beginning, I was more focused on being in a relationship, on my “happily ever after.” But as I continued to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in front of the Gohonzon, clarity emerged. Instead of chanting for myself, I began praying with all my heart for his happiness. I didn’t chant for us to be together, but rather for my daughter to have an amazing father and to develop a great relationship with him.
After a DNA test proved he was the father, we met and began a dialogue, and we found that those original feelings were still there. We decided that we would work together to become the best parents, and out of that desire, we eventually became a family.
Through this journey, I realized that my suffering came from relying on others and being preoccupied by what others thought of me. But the challenges I’ve overcome have made it clear to me that I’m a capable disciple of President Ikeda and do not need to begrudge my life circumstances. If it weren’t for my struggles, I never would have grown to love myself, just as I am.
After my partner saw how chanting changed my life, he started coming to meetings. He wanted to be happy, too. In 2014, he received the Gohonzon and began participating in SGI-USA activities. He was recently appointed a district young men’s leader, and today, we get to share our story with others of how we’re creating a harmonious family together.
Chanting and practicing Buddhism with my mother, partner and young daughter have shown me that it’s possible to transform family karma when I focus on changing my own heart and mind. My mother and I determined that my siblings would become absolutely happy, and they have all been setting personal goals and attending meetings, including their chapter kickoffs in January. They are changing one by one.
Moving toward the call for 50,000 young people to take a stand for peace with our mentor, President Ikeda, in 2018, I am eager to offer the same support to the young women of the SGI that I received in my most challenging times.
I now see a great future for my family. My partner is an actor and a musician, and my dream is to be a full-fledged costume designer. By challenging head-on the responsibilities of being a mother, a partner, a votary of the Lotus Sutra and an artist striving for kosen-rufu, I’ve been able to vividly see my potential. I have found the strength within me to create a harmonious family and a future brimming with hope.