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Challenging, interactive and inspirational were the words expressed by the students, faculty and community members who gathered in Ballroom A in the SUB on Wednesday, Feb. 12 to hear the moving story of Sara Minkara. Minkara is a Lebanese-American Muslim who is an internationally recognized advocate in disability inclusion, female leadership and social entrepreneurship.

To open, Minkara asked the crowd to introduce themselves to a stranger without stating their name, past education or where they live, all with their eyes closed. Minkara stated, “We are all faced with society’s perceptions of us.” The conversations among many were deeper and more personal than the everyday small talk most of us are used to. The lack of body language allowed each individual to feel confident in verbally expressing themselves truthfully.

Minkara lost her sight at the age of seven. She credited the continual support from her mother, family and community for why she and her sister, who was also blind, never fell behind. Minkara described how her encouraging mother raised her daughters with a strong sense of determination. “She pushed us, pushed us, and pushed us. I was able to have a full life and that’s because I have empowerment.”

Sara grew up in the United States and gained assistance from the government and private institutions. A trip to Lebanon to visit family gave her a new perspective on her privilege in her trial. She became perplexed when she realized these privileges were not affordable for blind children in developing countries. From that point on, Minkara made it her goal to instill confidence in Lebanese children.

At the age of 27, Minkara founded the nonprofit organization Empowerment Through Integration (ETI). The mission of ETI is to develop “a more inclusive society through empowering youth with disabilities and transforming social and cultural stigmas against disability globally.” ETI reaches out to more than a thousand program participants each year. According to the World Bank, 1 billion people on the planet experience some form of disability in their life. This is 14 percent of the world’s population. Rather than requiring companies to employ individuals with disabilities, she longs for a future in which there is a want to include disabled members of society.

The presentation closed with two asks and takeaways from Minkara. “Love all of who you are. Empowerment is the source for one to love themself.” She instructed each individual to ask themselves how to turn a weakness into a strength. Next, Minkara requested everyone to recognize their own inherent judgments and delay any assumptions when meeting someone for the first time. Life is a balance of seeing the beauty of ourselves and seeing the beauty in others.

For more information on Sara Minkara and ETI, visithttps://www.etivision.org/

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