Mohamad A. Chakaki:

My name is Mohamad Abdul Chakaki, and I too am America.

So it's a story, and it's a cold rainy night in the fall, and it’s Washington, DC at the corner of 16th and U-–right down the street from where I live--and I am at the bus stop, underneath the shelter. If you step into the street and look down the hill you can actually see the White House. I am sitting sharing the shelter with a homeless man and his bags are between the two of us. He is visibly drunk and I am in a quiet mood but he obviously wants to talk. He asks me my name. That is when everything changes. He grabs his bag and kinda slides them a little closer to him. Then he starts to ask me why am I here, why don't I go back from where I came from, and why do my people always like to blow things up, and whether I was going to blow him up. It was kinda strange--I didn’t feel threatened at all--but it was definitely weird. After berating me for about a minute or two, he picked up his stuff, and in the rain, walked across the street to the next bus stop. My name is Mohamad. That was my answer, and that is what changed everything for him. It's strange also because I have gotten all kinds of responses when I tell people my name. On the street, to strangers, sometimes they hug me, and obviously, other times they hate. I think the reason that I do the work that I do is because I like the hugs and I don’t like the hate. And I think America is more about hugs than it is about hate.

I do the work that I do because it makes me feel whole. It comes from the inside. I don't try to think too much about how others would perceive it, but rather the satisfaction I get out of it. It started with a really keen interest in the outdoors and being out in nature. I think back and connect some of that with my childhood, playing at the edges of the oceans and forest. Then also growing up in a relatively urban area and playing on streets. At some point I think that I realized to have other people, young people, also enjoy those kinds of experiences, out in nature, I also had to address social issues in the work that I do. That is how it went from this keen interest in environment to thinking about social justice--and understanding that those two are connected. Then deeply understanding those issues of both environmental and social justice issues are related to values and ethics. I think that is what I mean by wholeness--to understand the issues that we do from a more holistic perspective and not doing them ad-hoc, piecemeal, or fragmented. Again that connects me to my own personal wholeness. I do the work that I do because it makes me feel whole.