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Keynote Mee Moua: “I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

An amazing evening was attended by 525 people on May 18, with “Hold Fast to Love and Justice” as the theme of the annual gathering supporting ISAAC’s work and celebrating the Beloved Community.  Keynote speaker Mee Moua, racial healing circle practitioner and WK Kellogg Foundation consultant, inspired us with her story as a refugee from Laos who rose to serve as chair of the Minnesota Senate Judiciary Committee, through her journey of personal discernment to her liberating and loving work for racial healing and justice.

“Mom, are you scared?” ISAAC banquet speaker Mee Moua said her 12 year-old daughter asked, “when she heard I was speaking to over 500 people in a big hall. “No! I said. We’re Hmong Americans. When we have family reunions we rent a big hall for 500!  And I won’t have to code switch–we read The Hate U Give together–because I’ll be with family!”  She asked the crowd at the WMU Bernhard Center ballrooms on Saturday evening, “Can we be family?”, and she got a resounding “Yes!”

She described giving a talk in Selma Alabama, about the importance of really listening to each other. When she asked the audience to just listen to someone else for 1 and 1/2 minutes without speaking, “An Auntie spoke up, ‘Girl, we’re in the South!  We have a call and response culture!  You expect me to just listen?'”  Mee answered her, “Yes Ma’am. I want you to be quiet, but you can exercise your ‘loud face’ all you want!”

She gave a poem about herself, ” a ‘human doing’, never taking time to be a ‘human being’.” ” I grew up running”, she said. “When you’re a refugee you know you have to keep moving or you’ll die. I kept running–chased by hate and discrimination, then to get a BA and a Masters and a JD, to make me belong. I even ran for office.  I ran to DC and became a “professional Asian”.  I focused on running from, so I hadn’t taken time to imagine the world I wanted to run to.”

“In junior high school, three boys threw eggs at the window where my mom and I were sitting.  My mother said, ‘Some people will never like the way you look, but you can go to college, and be their boss!’  On the night I was elected to the State Legislature from the east side of Minneapolis, I couldn’t speak because there was a ball of tears in my throat.  My grandmother said, ‘Take all the time you need.  Those tears represent the thousands of voices who’ve never been heard. Take your time, then speak loud and clear for all those voices.'”

“I realized a couple of years ago that I was looking for a purposeful path–listening to my heart, my ancestors, my family, my community. Since then I’ve been in deep listening mode–listening to the feelings beneath the words. Listening may be the greatest service anyone has performed for someone else.”

“This is a love journey.  Join me.  Let us not be fueled by hate or fear, but by the love of one human family.”  “Tell everyone near you, “I love you, and there’s nothing you can do about it!” The ballroom filled with laughter, as the crowd responded to her request, then gave her a standing ovation.

The morning after our Banquet, our Leadership Board had the honor of sharing space and breakfast with our awesome Keynote, Mee Moua. Elder King led us all in sharing how the Banquet and Keynote Speaker had blessed us personally. Mee Moua during this time bestowed upon our Executive Director (ED) a beautiful scarf of friendship from her homeland. Mee also gave her a beautiful knitted bracelet with hearts, tying the bracelet on our ED’s arm symbolizing connection and blessings.  We are so happy to have Mee Moua as part of our ISAAC and Kalamazoo Family!