Part 2—As opposed to our adult elites: Let us tell you a story about a 19-year-old college sophomore.
Her name is Natasha Mundkur. She made an emotionally brilliant speech at last Friday's memorial service for Muhammad Ali.
You really have to watch the speech to grasp the power of its text. The emotional delivery of the speech vastly informs its content.
The speech ran just over five minutes; you really ought to watch. After expressing her gratitude for the chance to speak, Mundkur—she's just 19—started off like this:
MUNDKUR (6/10/16): So let me tell you a story about a man. A man who refused to believe that reality was a limitation to achieve the impossible.You really have to watch the speech to understand its power. As she finished, Mundkur returned to the rhetorical format with which she had begun:
A man who once reached out through the pages of a textbook and touched the heart of an eight-year-old girl, whose reflection of herself mirrored those who could not see past the color of her skin. But instead of drawing on that pain from that distorted reality, she found strength, just as this man did when he stood tall in the face of pelting rain and shouted:
"I am the disturbance in the sea of your complacency and I will never stop shaking your waves."
And his voice echoed through hers. Through mine. And she picked up the rocks that were thrown at her, and she threw them back with a voice so powerful that it turned all the pain that she had faced in her life into strength and tenacity. And now that eight-year-old girl stands before you, telling you that Ali's cry still shakes these waves today.
MUNDKUR: So let me tell you a story about a man. His name is Muhammad Ali. He is the greatest of all time.You really have to watch the speech to understand its power. Just click here; Mundkur starts at 2:10:00.
He is from Louisville, Kentucky and he lives in each and every one of us. And his story is far from over.
Who is Natasha Mundkur? She's a sophomore at the University of Louisville, in the city where she was born. Her parents are first- or second-generation Indian-Americans.
She's a McConnell Scholar at Louisville and, like her older brother, a Kentucky Governor's Scholar. She was asked to speak at the memorial service by the Muhammad Ali Center, where she has served on the council of students.
In her speech, Mundkur discussed an ancient, extremely difficult question, the question of who gets to be us.
When Mundkur was a child, her family moved from Louisville to a small town in Virginia. In the years which followed 9/11, she discovered the problems which can flow from the so-called "myth of fingerprints," from the perception of difference.
After her speech, she was interviewed by the Calcutta Times. Charu Sudan Kasturi reported the story like this:
KASTURI (6/11/16): [The] impression that Ali left on Natasha was from a time in the early 2000s, when the memories of the September 11, 2001, attacks were still fresh in the minds of most Americans, and the Louisville-born girl had moved with her parents for a while to Virginia.There's nothing especially new about children treating children badly. In 1944, Eleanor Estes wrote the Newberry Honor-winning book, The Hundred Dresses, the greatest depiction of moral experience we have ever seen.
It was in her rural Virginia neighborhood, Natasha told this newspaper in an interview on Saturday, that she faced the full force of discrimination as a young girl.
"From the grocery shop to my school, I was made to feel different, that my family were outsiders," Natasha recalled over the telephone from her Louisville home. "The fact that we were different wasn't celebrated, it was held against us."
Natasha had by then already read about Ali in her school textbooks and was in particular drawn to the boxer because of their Louisville connection.
She had read more online about the positions Ali took against racism and discrimination.
Then, one day, the dam broke. "In class, as I got up, some students asked me to go back to my own country," Natasha said. "That's when I decided I had had enough."
That book described the cruelty aimed at a young girl whose father was a Polish immigrant. Mundkur's experience moves this story into an era which is much more heavily fraught.
We wouldn't agree with every nuance of Mundkur's speech, but her speech was emotionally brilliant. When you look around at the adult world, you have to shake your head in wonder at the emergence of such brilliant younger people.
Two days after Mundkur gave her speech, the American-born son of two Afghan immigrants behaved in a very different way. Reading this morning's New York Times, we couldn't help noting the ways his story seemed to track that of Mundkur.
Mundkur is brilliant and eager to serve. She hopes to work in the foreign service. You wonder what a nation has ever done to be so relentlessly fortunate.
The other person to whom we refer committed mass murder this week. It sounds like, along the way, he may have been otherized too.
Mundkur seems to feel that righteousness will hold sway. "We are greater than the rocks or the punches that we throw at each other. We have the ability to empower and inspire and to connect and to unify, and that will live on forever."
As we look around at our adult elites—and yes, we include our progressive elites—we aren't entirely sure about that. That memorial service featured an array of brilliant speakers. But then, we look at our adult elites, for example on cable news channels.
More on this problem tomorrow. For today, do yourself a favor. Take the time to watch a startling young person deliver a beautiful speech.
Tomorrow: Assessing the realities of fingerprints