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To free the human spirit

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

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During February, Americans celebrate Black History Month. In light of repressive governments, such as the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the right of freedom and equality that many African-Americans fought for, and in some cases died for, has profound and continued meaning.

Although government support is essential, real freedom and equality can't actually be legislated. Freedom from prejudice and tyranny needs to be established in the heart of each individual. Sometimes a particular event may forward this progress. For example, Rosa Parks's refusal to move to the back of the bus - where African-Americans were supposed to sit in the days of overt racism - triggered the civil rights revolution. One person had the courage to say, "Enough!" And others joined in that refusal, beginning a movement that would transform the nation.

Those who are not victims of discrimination have also done their part by standing up for the others. Many examples of such courage were exhibited after Sept. 11, when people who were not Muslims stood watch over Muslim homes, places of worship, and businesses to protect them from harm.

Both groups can accomplish much, if they work together. But permanent change demands that new visions of justice emerge from people's hearts. For me, one of the most moving signs made by male African-American civil rights protesters was the one with the message, "I am a man." In other words, I am a human being - I have equality in the eyes of God. I have intelligence, love, goodness.

To me, those weren't just demands for the right to sit in the front of the bus, to eat in places where formerly only white people could eat. They were requiring that I - and others - recognize that humanity has a common bond. While we may be very different culturally and politically, we all love, aspire, and long for justice, no matter what our race, ethnic background, gender, or religious beliefs.

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