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Asking Questions Together

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by Mitch Bogen
Special to the Tribune

There was nothing simulated or “less than” about the conversations that took place on June 11, when 250 participants from 19 countries gathered online for the Ikeda Center’s virtual panel discussion “Asking Questions Together: What Is Our Path Forward?”

Panelist Ceasar McDowell, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, shared thoughts about the civic engagement initiative he recently launched, America’s Path Forward, which inspired the format of the event. He said that by beginning with questions instead of answers, we can get closer to grasping the uniqueness of our stories and who we are as a “demographically complex” nation, thus better able to create collective solutions to our problems.

In that spirit, the panelists shared their own questions, along with their personal stories of how they arrived at each question. Ikeda Center Student Ambassador Anthony Jojola, master’s candidate at Boston College, asked, “How can we change the systemic racism, inequalities, discrimination and prejudices in people’s minds and hearts?”

Giulia Pellizzato, also a student ambassador and postdoctoral fellow at Brown University, wondered, “How can we ensure that every youth has access to empowering education, which is centered on students’ potential and lifelong happiness based on their needs?”

Finally, professor McDowell’s question was “Why is it, as a Black man in America, I have hope and love for a country that has mistreated Black people so bad for so long?”

Participants later used the Zoom “chat room” to post more than 100 questions of their own, forming the basis for small group dialogues.
To conclude, Ikeda Center Executive Advisor Jason Goulah cited Daisaku Ikeda’s insight from his 1993 Harvard lecture that humans are crippled by “a prejudicial mindset” that places “an unreasoning emphasis on individual differences” (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 340). Professor Goulah added that if we are able to overcome the “attachments to difference that subjugate some human beings,” the United States can truly become “a compass for the world.”