Dr. Derreck Kayongo answers the question, “Why is the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto important?”

Thoughts from Dr. Derreck Kayongo, CEO of The Center for Civil and Human Rights

As a young boy growing up in Uganda under the reprobate leadership of Idi Amin in the seventies, I witnessed this leadership begin to develop a new form of authoritarianism, which took on a religious tone.

In the summer of 1975 Idi Amin announced that Uganda was to change its calendar. Rather than Saturday and Sunday being the weekend days of rest, we would instead rest on Friday so he could worship his god and go back to work on Saturday and Sunday. This change was for the purpose of following his Muslim tradition. On the surface this appeared to be a cause for a concern. The decree was done without the consent of the people, parliament, or even the Muslim community that sought to live in harmony with everyone else.

After the calendar change decree, my family and I along with many others started to see what seemed as an innocuous action set off a series of dictatorial actions that began the end of Uganda’s democracy. After the war began, over 200,000 Ugandans were killed within a span of eight years. My family left a comfortable life and ended up as refugees during Idi Amin’s miasma of terror.

Why is this story important to the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto? It is a cautionary tale to remind all of us how intolerance begins and what happens in its aftermath. Like a tumor, intolerance begins as a benign growth and if one doesn’t pay attention to it, it shouldn’t shock any of us when it becomes cancerous and starts to eat away at the very core of our wellbeing.

Intolerance shrinks the marketplace of ideas and it requires a lot of resources to master at the expense of innovation and a diversity of opportunities for all. The only way I have been afforded another chance at life, as a former refugee, is when I came to this great nation that offered me the opportunity to be someone with dreams and aspirations. A free America suggests that you are equal under the eyes of God with inalienable God-given rights and that’s a powerful and empowering raison d’être for a country to have at its core. Who would have ever imagined that I would go from a miserable refugee boy to now being the CEO of one of the most significant organizations in Atlanta!

The Center for Civil and Human Rights represents the successful evolution of the American spirit. We as Americans can set upon the journey of correcting our misdeeds of yesteryear and create the voting rights bill, Brown vs. Board, and so many other legislative victories to create a true and perfect Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

To that end, the point of the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto is to remind us of our success in inclusiveness and to instruct us not to cower behind the oppression of intolerance. As Americans, we are supposed to be the global example going beyond tolerance at its best and striving for a far more integrative measure. We must pursue a religious love that authors equality at all levels within our social, political, economic and spiritual life. In Christianity, where I belong, like in many religions, we say love your neighbor as you love yourself. Let’s determine to set our civilization apart by being the very essence of love. The Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto seeks to bring God’s Kingdom in heaven down on earth so the least among us can get reprieve. Your participation in that action is a Godly act and shall be noted for its gumption!

Derreck Kayongo is the Chief Executive Officer of The National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Inc. He and his family fled a civil war in Uganda and settled in Kenya as refugees. He then found his way to the U.S. where he became a successful entrepreneur as the founder of the Global Soap Project, a program which takes partially used soap from hotels, recycles them into new bars of soap, and redistributes the new bars to vulnerable populations around the world. Kayongo has been featured as a TEDx speaker and at several corporate and university forums. He recently coauthored, “The Roadmap to Success,” with Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. Ken Blanchard. Within this work, Kayongo focuses on Understanding the Instructive Power of Failure When Building Successful Ventures.