Twenty five hungry Stanford University students will not only have a chance to share a meal with their fellow cohorts, but also enjoy some food for thought regarding social justice and religion led by former Cardinal, Valarie Kaur. Kaur who walked the halls as an International Relations and Religion major, graduating in 2003, has been invited to lead a discussion entitled “Innovation for Social Change: How do I lead in an ever changing world?” on May 9, 2014 as part of the Stanford Leadership ‘n Lunch Series.
Kaur is no stranger to speaking in front of college students. In fact, almost a year ago, she made the baccalaureate address to the Stanford graduating class of 2013, nearly ten years after her own graduation. In her speech, she shared her journey and how it shaped her to become the person she is today-national interfaith leader, award-winning filmmaker, and civil rights advocate. In the aftermath of 9/11, a family friend of Kaur’s, Balbir Singh Sodhi was killed in a hate crime. It was during this crisis, Kaur began her crusade for social change, her weapon of choice, a camera. Traveling all across the United States, she captured the stories of Sikh, Muslim and Arab Americans as well as the violence and hostility they faced after 9/11. This resulted in her first film, Divided We Fall (2008), directed by her partner and husband Sharat Raju.
The America she documented on film was vastly different from the one she grew up in. Born and raised in Clovis, California, Kaur grew up on the farm her family had settled on hundreds of years ago. In her baccalaureate address in 2013, she recalls learning prayers from her grandfather, who instilled in her the core belief of the Sikh faith-seva, sacred service. This is at the heart of every project that Kaur has taken on, from reporting on military commissions in Guantanamo to campaigning against racial profiling towards Latinos in East Haven, Connecticut. Kaur’s work has not gone without acknowledgment-in 2013; she was named Person of the Year by India Abroad, made the top eight list of Asian American Women of Influence by Audrey Magazine, and was recognized as a national leader of faith to watch by The Center for American Progress.
More than just the accolades, however, through the service she has provided, Kaur’s storytelling not only sheds light to social issues, but sends a message of faith. “In whatever way it comes alive for you – faith in God or in goodness, faith in knowing that compassion outlasts destruction and death, faith in yourself, faith in one another.” Most recently, she was able to share this message of faith on April 25, 2014-at a monumental event held at the Pentagon to commemorate Sikhism. For the first time in the history of the United States, a cultural display of music, poetry, stories, and prayers highlighted the richness of the Sikh faith for attendees to appreciate. Kaur shared her own gratitude towards the many individuals that laid down their lives, struggling and sacrificing to create a nation of equality for all. In order to continue that journey, Kaur prays not only for herself but for the world. “Nanak nam chardi kala, tere bhaanai sarbat da bhala.” “In the Name of God, we find everlasting optimism. Within Your Will, may there be grace for all of humanity.”