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Talk With a Fellow Human From This Library

2019-5-11

The saying, “Don't judge a book by its cover,” means you should not guess the worth or value of something based on how it looks.

That message was clear at a recent event called the Human Library Project . The event took place at the Northern Virginia, or NoVa, Community College, outside of Washington. D.C.

The Human Library began 19 years ago in Denmark. It grew from a youth organization called “Stop the Violence.” Today, it is a worldwide movement.

At the NoVa event, students got the chance to learn from a person -- a “human book” -- instead of a library book.

Patricia Cooper organized the event. She said that human books celebrate diversity by telling their life stories in an easy-going setting.

“The goal of the human library is to talk to people in your community who you may otherwise not speak to because you have your own prejudices and hopefully to break down some of these barriers.”

This is the third year that NoVa has held such an event. The collection of human books included a civil rights activist, a scientist from the American space agency NASA, and an opera singer.

Fighting prejudices

Najeeb Baha is director of recreation and wellness at the college. He knows about dealing with prejudice – an unfair feeling or dislike for a person or group because of race, sex or religion.

Baha has fair skin, reddish hair and an Arabic name. People are often surprised to learn he is from Afghanistan. Baha said security officers at airports often stop him because he does not look like what people see as a usual Afghan.

He also experiences prejudice when he goes to Islamic religious centers in Virginia.

Baha spoke about his story to NoVa student Angel Navia.

“My goal is to inform everybody about the things that I've gone through.”

Baha told Navia he thinks people should not focus so much on skin color. And, they should not judge individuals by their last name or how they speak.

Navia said the time he spent with Baha taught him a lot.

“The struggles that just come from something simple, just a name or where you’re from, and how that dictates some aspects of your life.”

Value of education

Student advisor Connie Robinson was another human book. She shared how she survived an abusive relationship.

“Life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we deal with it."

Robinson said that a college education helped her get out of a terrible situation. She was able to take control of her life.

“When I talk to students, I just want them to know that whatever they're going through, you know, continue to strive for their education because it is so important.”

Learning from travel

Artist Brian Dailey was another human book. He spoke about his travels to 113 countries in seven years. Dailey said that, during his travels, he asked people he took pictures of for a one-word answer to a series of other words – such as love, freedom and war. He discovered that people in different countries often had very different reactions to the same word.

When Dailey asked people in Africa about the word "war" they used words like justice, liberation and peace. When he asked the same question to people in Syrian refugee camps, the answer was: “tears, hunger, fear, destruction.”

Dailey said people in most of the countries had a similar answer when he said the word government. Most people, he said, do not seem to like theirs very much.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Deborah Block reported on this story for VOA News. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

diversity - n. the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization

library - n. a collection of similar things

opera - n. a kind of performance in which actors sing all or most of the words of a play with music performed by an orchestra

focus - v. to direct your attention or effort at something specific

dictate - v. to make (something) necessary

aspect - n. a part of something

strive - v. to try very hard to do or achieve something

Have you met someone who is very different from you? What did you learn from them? Write to us in the Comments Section.