Winter 2013: Akaya Windwood Response to "Seeing the Unseen" Essay Winners

Akaya Windwood, president of the Rockwood Leadership Institute and author of "What Can Change When We Learn to See Each Other," responds to essay winners of the Winter 2013 writing competition
Eyes by Ahmed Sinan

Photo by Ahmed Sinan

Dearest Sumaiyah, Nizhone, Adam, and Reyna,

As I read your essays, I had to keep reminding myself to breathe.  Thank you for your thoughtfulness, for your courage and for your willingness to show us your souls. It is an honor for me to read your essays and respond to you.

I wiped away tears as I finished your piece, Sumaiyah – your description of that young bagger’s smile will remain with me forever.  How lucky he is to have you in his neighborhood, and how lucky your new sibling will be to have you as a sister!

Nizhone, I too feel the challenge of opening myself to strangers, especially after having been disappointed.  I so appreciate your commitment to continue trying – especially given the tricky social “dos and don’ts” of our time.

Adam, I loved how you juxtaposed crankiness with an act of kindness that saved a life. We rarely get the opportunity to immediately see the effects of our actions, and your story was one of instant karma. The gratitude expressed at the end of the story really touched me.

Your description of the old woman was so vivid, Reyna; I felt I knew her.  The young girl who refused to give up under less-than-welcoming circumstances showed fortitude that we all can learn from. And the hidden message in your poem was a delight!

I was struck by your common theme of interconnection.  Each of you reminded us that we need one another.  Adam writes “We both have saved one another.” Nizhone: “I think I would feel happier for having made someone else happier.” Reyna: “The two, although so utterly different, find themselves keeping each other company.” Finally, Sumaiyah: “My smile came right from my heart since his smiles were always so genuine.” Thank you for teaching us about the importance of reciprocity – we can never have too many of those lessons.

In light of this, when I re-read my original essay I see a limitation. I wrote about the impact my seeing had on the young men, but I didn’t acknowledge how important that moment was to me as well.  I needed to see them as much as they needed me to see them.  I was warmed by their sweetness with each other, and their clear friendship was a balm to me.  The four of you took this one step further, and by acknowledging the other, made the circle whole.  You are so wise to remind us that none of us exists in isolation, that what affects one, affects us all.

You are four of many students who wrote responses, and I want to thank everyone who had the courage not only to explore the topic, but to offer up their writing. This is not an easy thing to do, and I appreciate those of you who put time and effort in the contest.

I write this response just a few days after the Boston, Nasariyah, Kirkuk and Baghdad bombings.  The deaths of those 33 people weigh on my soul, and your writings are good medicine for these hard times. I know that if we refuse to cast people aside, if we commit to keeping the human circle whole, if we take the risks of reaching out toward each other the world will transform.  As I read your essays, I’m reminded that young people like you must lead, and when you do, we are in very good hands.  Thank you so much for that, and for the wisdom you’ll continue to bring us over the years.

From my heart to yours,




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