The Meaning of My Struggles
How I turned my painful experiences into the fuel for change.
by Mose Henderson
If we feel that our lives are painful or agonizing, then let’s find a spare moment and pray about our situation. If we pray, then the energy to challenge our circumstances will emerge, and we will definitely find a way to break through. Eventually we will attain a life state where we can do activities and devote ourselves to kosen-rufu to our heart’s content, free of all hindrances. (Ikeda Sensei, The New Human Revolution, vol. 4, revised edition, p. 153)
During my senior year of high school, I began to break down mentally and emotionally to the point where I couldn’t complete my homework or even do simple tasks. I was worn down by commuting across dangerous parts of Chicago to attend an elite school, only to face abject racism from my peers and teachers. I decided I would quit, get my GED and figure things out.
I was one of the few Black students in an accelerated program at a high school composed of kids from elite families whose parents were government and business executives. I remember opening the door on my first day of school and hearing the first student I locked eyes with say to a friend, “I didn’t know colored people were allowed in this program!” I had countless experiences like this, including a teacher who constantly singled me out, announcing to the class how poor my work was, while other kids who hardly turned in assignments or plagiarized their work went unpunished.
My situation began to change when I opened up to my father. He listened to me, and then we read a passage from Ikeda Sensei together (see beginning). I decided to resolve my difficulties with faith. In the mornings, I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with more focus to prepare my life state for the challenges at school. I also leaned into SGI activities, especially the young men’s training groups, Gajokai, Soka Group and Brass Band.
As I chanted and contributed to more SGI activities, I realized that it wasn’t my problems that were draining my energy; it was the way I was thinking about them. I began to see my problems as an opportunity to show the greatness of my life. The more my life state expanded, the more I thought about how I could support others rather than blame my environment for my suffering.
During this time, I recalled that my high school was located next to Lincoln Park, where Sensei visited in October 1960. There, he witnessed a young Black boy discriminated against by a group of white kids and determined in his heart to build a society “truly worthy of [his] love and pride” (see The New Human Revolution, revised edition, vol. 1, p. 161). I realized then how profound my mission was to stand up on behalf of this boy and all children who are subjected to racism.
My turning point came on graduation day. I felt completely victorious having fought through all these obstacles to finish high school, so when I went to receive my diploma, I did a spin move to express my joy. I was then reprimanded for my behavior and told I would have to wait until the weekend to get my diploma. I was distraught.
This time, I remembered the training and guidance I received in the SGI to stand up for my dignity. I voiced how I had been treated unfairly by many of the faculty. I surprised myself because I had never been vocal about the issues I faced at school. To my amazement, not only was I given my diploma, but I was pulled aside by my program director who told me that she would launch an investigation and assured me that this would not happen to another student. I felt so appreciative that my courageous actions sparked a concrete change at school.
While my high school experience was painful, because I challenged it head-on with my Buddhist practice, I changed the meaning of my struggles, making them the catalyst to move my life forward. My challenges enabled me to develop compassion for those who are suffering, and I decided to attend Soka University of America, which Sensei founded in May 2001 to develop global citizens committed to living a contributive life.
At Soka, I made lifelong friends and had the full support of my peers, faculty and staff. I believe this change in my environment reflected my human revolution in becoming someone who truly cares for others. I have the utmost appreciation for everything that Sensei and the SGI have done for me. Toward 2030, my determination is to continue to be an agent of change by creating more affordable alternative energy methods for future generations.