In 2003 I received a phone call from a contact at a national group whose goal was to encourage minority students to consider careers in biomedical research. He gave me the name, phone number and email address of John H., as a prospect for our PhD program.
I established contact with John and in one of his emails he told me that he was from Rwanda and had lived there through the horrific tribal genocide in the 1990s. He then wrote the following:
“I now realize that the only way to solve our problem of hatred
is through global education.
I am now a global citizen and only belong to one race – the human race.”
I found those words profound and inspiring. I thought it was the essence of our global and local problems – if we thought of ourselves primarily as ‘one race’ rather than as Hutu or Tutsi, Muslim or Jew, Black or White, it could shape our responses to global and local conflicts and perhaps form the basis of solving what John called “our problem of hatred.”
When John joined our PhD program, we talked about what he had written and his experiences and decided to try to circulate his views. We designed a t-shirt with his words on it and gave them to our students. When students came to my office and saw the box I told them to find their size and help themselves – with only one condition. They had to promise to wear the shirts out and not only use them for night shirts - we had 150 shirts printed and now I have no more than 3 or 4 left. (John spent a year in our PhD program but then decided it wasn’t for him. He left to become a teacher to young kids – Bravo, John!)