My Squad of 50

Cassandra Colby, of Los Angeles, learns the unparalled value of her life by awakening many lions

Living Buddhism: Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Can you tell us about your childhood?

Cassandra Colby: For as long as I can remember, I deeply hated who I was and how I looked. I also struggled academically and was told by my teachers that I wasn’t smart enough to get into a good high school. However, through my parent’s persistence in faith, I got into one of the top three all-girls high schools in Los Angeles, an impossible goal. This was the first time I experienced the power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Once I got there, however, I felt completely out of place as one of only two African American girls in my class. I struggled with my image and would constantly compare myself to my uber-wealthy, intelligent, tall, skinny, blonde classmates. As a result of my self-loathing, I almost failed out of school my freshman year. Fortunately, I was able to complete all four years of high school.

In my senior year, I applied to various colleges across the country, and I decided to attend a college in St. Augustine, Florida. There, I experienced outright racism for the first time.

I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?

Cassandra: During my first year there, a classmate shared how she felt interracial marriage was wrong and she justified the use of racially derogatory terms. After letting her talk, I asked her if she knew that I was a product of an interracial marriage. She replied that she thought I was Hawaiian. I was shocked.

What did you do?

Cassandra: Instead of continuing to feel defeated, I decided to receive the Gohonzon in the summer of 2012, just before my junior year. As I developed my own practice, I gained confidence in my voice, and I wrote two articles in the school newspaper about racism in the 21st century and the history of the Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine. My articles received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2014, I graduated from college with honors and a newfound confidence in my academic ability.

Where did you go from there?

Cassandra: I returned home, where my practice took a back seat to my social life. Things changed in August of 2015, when I was violently assaulted outside of a popular night club while defending my friends. The man who assaulted me started yelling profanities at me, specifically targeting my appearance. He then punched me in my face, and I decided to fight back. Although I was standing up for my friends, when I got up and looked around, all but one of them had left me.

What happened after that?

Cassandra: For the next two years, I didn’t practice and drowned myself in more self-loathing. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be on this planet. I thought, Why am I always giving my all in my relationships and getting nothing back in return?

I was also dealing with excruciating pain in my lower back, which left me unable to stand or walk for more than 10 minutes at a time. After more than a year of dealing with the pain, I found out that I had three sizable slipped discs in my lower back from the assault and was told that I needed surgery. Feeling desperate to find a solution, I finally turned to the Gohonzon. Soon after, my mom found a great doctor and, after several months of treatment, I felt better than I had all year. I was so appreciative.

To show my appreciation, I gave my first financial contribution to SGI-USA in May 2017. I vowed to establish my own practice and, despite the poor condition of my back, I joined Byakuren, a young women’s behind-the-scenes training group, in June of that year. I also started a masters of business administration program while working full time.

In November 2017, I hesitantly accepted a new leadership responsibility as a vice chapter young women’s leader. Soon, I began to feel sorry for myself because of my long list of responsibilities, including school, full-time work, Byakuren and SGI leadership.

Photo by Debra Williams.

How did things shift?

Cassandra: At the beginning of 2018, my leaders started talking more about our 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival. I decided to use this 50K movement as a catalyst for my human revolution.

I started chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo consistently every morning and evening, and I began to feel more confident than I ever had. I began sincerely sharing Buddhism with my friends and even started inviting them to the 50K Festival, despite my fear of rejection. When I first heard that each youth was challenging to bring their own “Squad of 6” to the festival, I didn’t think that I could bring that many friends. However, now I have 34 friends who are registered for the festival, and my determination is to bring a “Squad of 50.” What’s more, I made sure that the first friends I registered were those who left me that night at the altercation. Instead of seeking for them to make me happy, I realized I have to do my part in helping those around me become happy.

Why is the 50,000 Lions of Justice movement important to you?

Cassandra: For me, each registration is my vow to SGI President Ikeda that I will not hesitate in any aspect of my life and will never turn my back on the SGI, the members or the Gohonzon. My personal goal toward 50K is to move forward in my ultimate dream of becoming the next big American media proprietor, with a broad reach to inspire people to achieve their dreams.

We are living during a pivotal turning point in our history where we can change America’s destiny and become the biggest exporters of peace. Young people are seeking change. I believe that the 50K movement is the SGI-USA’s response. People are ready to hear about our movement. I am determined to plant many seeds.

(p. 34-35)