I'm a new fan of country singer, Uncle Kracker -- ever since my little cousin, Iman, starred in his latest video, "Blue Skies", as the take-charge, kid director. As my family has gotten a kick out of showing the video to friends, I've thought more and more about the amazing story that landed this child on a set where he figures prominently, demanding the uber-all-American celebrity to, "BE COUNTRY" for his millions of fans.
Now I watch the video and it carries two potent messages for me:
• The creative power released when the United States, and its big-hearted citizens, welcome people of any background and offer opportunities as big as the blue sky Uncle Kracker praises in the video.
• The awesome power of young people to make positive contributions to the world, and to become a force for change.
All of this comes out when I watch the video, because I can't separate little Iman from his roots and from what's going on around him.
Iman's father, Faryab Lohrasbi, arrived in America in 1980, as a refugee, when he was just a couple years older than his son is now. Faryab's father was the largest landowner in Mazandaran province in Iran, and upon the Iranian Revolution, was imprisoned -- not for his landownings, which were acquired fairly and managed responsibly, but for his beliefs, as a member of the Baha'i Faith.
As Faryab related to me, "My father's trial was broadcast on loudspeakers for the whole town to hear, and took place from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m." As the family was informed of the death sentence for Mr. Lohrasbi, somehow, the same prosecutor must have experienced a life-altering remorse, so he quietly freed the defendant, whose magnetic personality reminds me of what got charming Iman on the music video. As a result, both the prosecutor and the Lohrasbi's got out of town as quickly as they could, and by then, both had death sentences hanging over them.
With an escape as astonishing as a Houdini trick, within weeks the family -- now penniless -- found themselves in England, and after some months arrived in Nashville, Tennessee. Despite hardship, they eventually experienced the American Dream. Faryab put himself through college and medical school at Vanderbilt, and is a successful physician practicing in his adopted hometown. Iman's mom, Taraneh's story is no less amazing, as her prominent Baha'i family of Jewish heritage also narrowly escaped Iran with the clothes on their back.
After I saw the video I asked Faryab if he thought it was incredible that the child of Iranian refugees stars in a country music video, as a confident, American kid. He responded, laughing: "Honestly, I never even thought about that. We're just regular people, and this is such a Nashville thing." After one short generation, this normalcy speaks volumes to me about the power of integration, welcoming, friendship, forgiveness, opportunity and acceptance. And I love Uncle Kracker for embracing Iman as his "cousin" in the video.
Seeing Iman in the "Blue Skies" video and knowing his and his family's active engagement in grassroots efforts bringing children, youth and adults of diverse races and religions together for service, dialogue and friendship, reminded me of other young people across the globe displaying tremendous capacity for meaningful change.
For example, this video of a 12-year-old Egyptian boy eloquently explaining the social and political situation of his country is known as "Egypt Next President Video." This was shared just as the world celebrated Malala Day, where youth took over the U.N. General Assembly demanding the right to education for all, in honor of brave Malala Yousafzai's 16th birthday, as she delivered this moving speech. And just a day after, a jury decided to acquit George Zimmerman in the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, spurring a crucial debate on how far we must go to realize true justice between people of all races.
These crises and victories with young people at the core leave me with a stronger conviction than ever of the power youth possess to build or inspire a better world, reinforced when I read my 18-year-old daughter's recent Facebook status: "I had such a wonderful time in Boston with about 500 other inspiring youth this weekend, and hope that as we all return to our communities we can continue to support each other in this massive movement of service." She's referring to her participation in one of 114 youth conferences held this July through October in places as varied as Papua New Guinea, Helsinki, Finland, Mzuzu, Malawi, Barbados, and Boston, (see this Google Map with all locations, as a cool geography lesson), sponsored by the worldwide Baha'i community.
Participants at the Boston Baha'i Youth Conference. Photo Credit: Baha'i World News Service.
Each gathering welcomes young people of all backgrounds, with the aim of building a better world through concrete, service-oriented action. This often starts right in our own neighborhoods, where unity and equality between races, between women and men and between people of all education and economic backgrounds, forms a foundation to moving forward.
Such a range of young people from all parts of the planet gives me great hope for our collective future. Let's empower and trust youth to make real change. Sometimes it might mean stepping back and letting a new generation give direction, just as Iman does with Uncle Kracker!