Being human is hard on the boulevard, no doubt about it. Every day, we’re reminded how wonderful humankind can be and yet, we’re plagued by constant conflict and political turmoil. More of the former hit the city of Aleppo in Syria again this month when a barrel bomb killed 15 people, including an infant. One of the survivors—a five-year-old boy—caught worldwide attention after being pulled from the rubble that was once his home. A bewildered and dust covered Omran made everyone realize just how heartbreaking the Syrian War has become and how tumultuous the world can get.
— CNN (@CNN) August 18, 2016
Just a few days earlier, the city took center stage at the United Nation’s headquarters for The One Humanitarian event. In 2008, the General Assembly proclaimed Aug. 18 World Humanitarian Day in remembrance to the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq.
Between performances from Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr. and The Voice’s recent winner Alison Porter, the FRONTLINE documentary Children of Syria played. Tears and guilt filled the room as the audience watched the story of family Hala and Abu Ali and their children, Sara, Farah, Helen and Mohammed, on their three-year-journey to freedom. The documentary shares the reality families in Syria and other besieged areas face around the world.
The UN’s simple request to spread love, compassion and valuable resources is something that anyone can follow with little instruction. It’s also one of the reasons why Odom took part in the event. His song “I Know That You Know” from his self titled debut album was handpicked to narrate the love story of Hala and Abu Ali. Midway into the film, we learn that ISIS militants kidnapped Abu Ali. To cope with the loss, Hala continues small rituals like having coffee in the morning and “talking” to Abu Ali; meaning having conversations with photos of her husband that are stored on her phone.
“So darling I know that you know/That I’ll go where you go/I choose you, won’t lose you/ I wish you knew how much I long to hold you,” Odom sings. It’s almost a wonder how a jazz record could help narrate a love story that’s older than the song itself. When asked about taking part in the event, Odom explains how Hamilton (he gave his final performance as Aaron Burr in July) has helped him spread the importance of a good deed. “You know Hamilton has brought a lot of a bounty of gifts and blessings since I’ve been involved so this is just a chance – every now and again somebody asks me to do something like this or asks me to do some kind of outreach with kids or something like that,” he said over the phone just a few days before the event. “I say yes to those things because it’s our job. A lot of these people have given their lives [and] I’m just happy to hopefully put a smile on their face for a couple minutes.”
Acclaimed author and feminist figurehead Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie provided the same duty as the keynote speaker at the event. Speaking from the heart, Adichie encouraged everyone to remember “n’anya” (Igbo translation for “love”) and to open up borders of the mind that allow ignorance towards those who wear a darker shade of blue and a richer flavor than vanilla. “It is what makes us speak up about injustice, even when that justice does not personally affect us,” she said. “There might not be room for everyone, but there is room to do more. There is room to honor more commitments, room to bridge the divide on what has been promised and what has been accomplished.”
At best, America’s current political climate is cloudy with a chance of chaos. In between the thunder and lightening, African Americans have found ways to up their spirits with positive affirmations like #blackgirlmagic and discussions of self-care. For Adichie, the mantra is something she’s always had. “For me, #blackgirlmagic has been my life,” she said during our chat in the UN building. “It’s not remarkable to me that black women are fantastic, because I’ve known that from the time I was [one]. It’s so feminine to me that black women all over the world—Africa to African diaspora—that black women are just really remarkable. I’ve known this forever; it’s self-evident to me.”
WHD didn’t stop raising awareness that Friday. Since then, the UN has called on those to register inspiring humanitarians for the $1 million Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity. Applicants are those who have stood on the front lines of man-made disasters and crimes against humanity in an effort to change the world and save lives.
Love and the message of doing the right thing can inspire the children of Aleppo, the teens in Chicago and the people behind the blue uniforms. It might feel redundant, but figures like Odom and Adichie aren’t done pressing them into the mind of the masses.