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  • Reverend James Squire

Justice System or Legal System



I had lunch today with one of my extraordinary former students. Some of our conversation could be helpful to you, the reader of this blog. I will share what I learned that you can learn from him as well. I will not share his personal details. He is an African American student who spent the first seven years of his life in a refugee camp in a war-torn area of Africa. He and his family fled from violence that few of us can imagine to the refugee camp.


There was no school for him to attend so he would move from place to place in the camp encountering a diverse group of people. There were times when there was not enough food, but, as he pointed out to me, you don’t know what you don’t have when you are in a refugee camp. As a result of being in the camp, he speaks several languages. He also grew up fast with so much maturity at such a young age.


He and his family came to America and he entered third grade even though he had no formal schooling and could not speak or understand the English language. He was placed according to his age. He was at grade level after that year. His large family moved into a two-bedroom apartment in a nearby part of the city. Air mattresses were spread across the living room floor for him and his siblings.


Our then Head of School heard about the family and made it possible for the three brothers to attend EA.


He is Muslim. He understands the importance of equal treatment of all religions better than anyone that I have ever heard. He indicated that he got that from Chapel where he was one of my student spiritual leaders.


My luncheon guest loved his experience at EA. In many ways it was part of who he is today. He is among the most kind and empathetic people that I know.


How did he rise with so little to begin his journey through life to where he is today? I knew his story, but I asked him to tell me in more detail about his days in the refugee camp and his time prior to coming to our school.


I believe the answer to his rise is his ability to take all of his life and to never forget where he came from which is a theme of my memoir which he is currently reading. He can reach back to his refugee days. They are not something to forget. They are something to remember.


I remember when he was at EA that he told me that he would set his alarm for an early morning hour to make sure that all of his homework was done in the best way possible.


This is a family story as well. His older brother who graduated from our school received his undergraduate degree from Harvard and now is working on a PH.D in biomedical engineering at MIT. Another brother received a degree in mechanical engineering. All have the same history,

But there is something more. Call it integrity, empathy or heart. Most ethicists will tell you that these are the ingredients leading to success. I remember a text that I received from him when I was struggling with a medical issue. He simply wrote: “Thinking of you Rev. I hope that you are doing well.” It helped me to take a deep breath to continue on.


We covered a myriad of bases in our conversation during lunch including the current political situation in our country, Critical Race Theory, spirituality, Black Lives Matter, the importance of faith, and what it is like to be a black man in a nation that has not curtailed the efforts of white supremacy. He then made a comment that I had never heard before. He said, “We don’t have a justice system. We have a legal system.” What a summary of current affairs in our nation as more of Trump’s crimes seem to go untouched by the law and black people dominate the prison system.


This student is a recent college graduate where he majored in international relations and received an important award at his graduation. His goal is to work in the foreign service. He will leave on September 1 to join the U.S, embassy in France. Because of his refugee days, he is fluent in French. It is one of several languages that he can speak.


Before we parted ways, I told him that I thought that he would change the world. How did I know that? Because he has changed me and many others who know him. Do not forget where you came from for powerful things can motivate you even in a refugee camp. I know that is true!

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