Difficult Topics Make the Best Conversations

When Haider Hamza speaks to college students across the country he keeps track of questions asked during his lecture. He does this to get a sense of not only how many questions were asked by that audience, but to also build off them and potentially develop his next talk in a way that will touch upon those topics of discussion. He has even built in pauses during his lecture for audience members to ask him questions. At any given event Hamza says that there are around 10 questions asked throughout those stopping points. Bucknell University was not just another school Haiderand this was not a typical talk for him. This event was focused on relating his message back to that of Martin Luther King Jr. and he says that he received around 36 questions that night. “I stopped every four minutes or so to ask the audience if they had any questions and to get a read on how they were responding to what I had to say,” Hamza said afterward.

In keeping with the theme of the week, Haider spoke to his audience about universal human rights. He talked about how regardless of who you are or where you are from, everyone has basic human rights. He was able to zoom out from his lens, zoom out from the message of Dr. King, and connect the two on a broad scale to create what turned out to be “the most original, riveting, and sincere [talk],” according to Carmen Gillespie, Director of the Griot Institute for Africana Studies at Bucknell. Reflecting after the event he commented that in broadening the two topics to a location where they connect, he was able to get more buy-in from the audience, and in return more people were receptive to what he had to say. Katie Carroll, Bucknell Class of 2019, was quoted in the school newspaper saying that although the message of Dr. King is taught in the classroom, “we have to realize that knowing the message of MLK is different from applying it,” and noted that Hamza encouraged the audience to recognize that difference as he “opened [her] eyes to the true meaning and application of Dr. Martin Luther King’s message [in today’s world].

The conversations on this topic and with Haider did not stop after his talk was over. Not only did students stay late speaking with him that night, but more than a week after the event he was still receiving dozens of emails from students. The event provided a safe space to have the difficult conversations about conflict, discrimination, and slavery among other topics that are not normally talked about in daily life. Students, faculty, as well as community members, took advantage of this platform to have these conversations. Hamza notes that although we do not feel comfortable having these conversations, we are doing more harm than good in not talking. Audience members were able to connect what he was talking about to their own personal experiences, and developed a connection with Hamza in numerous ways as he created “a once-in-a-lifetime understanding and reimaging of experience,” according to Gillespie. His talk was the first in the Violence of Hate series put together by the Bucknell President’s Diversity Council, and provided students with a safe space in which they were able to connect with one another on a level that many of them had never tried to get to prior to listening to his story.