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By Carisa Carlton

Overcoming Challenge

I was raised by a father who maintained misplaced veneration for a religious leader with extreme ideologies, including rejection of education. At age fourteen, I felt compelled to choose between my community and spiritual liberalism. I followed my heart and, as a result, my father, and most everyone I knew, disowned me.

Reduced to bare life by starting at a young age on my own, I migrated to California in hopes of a promising future. I eked out a living by working overtime hours at a semiconductor firm. Though I could not articulate a clear vision for my future at that time, I craved a life that mattered. I formed tactical relationships with Silicon Valley executives, and at 19 years old, I changed my destiny by starting an international business. My business venture provided me the freedom to chase my cultural curiosity around the world. I lived in France, Indonesia, Japan, and Singapore; and I stayed with primitive tribes, such as the Hadzabes and the Danis.

Suffering the loss of my identity within my own family over religious differences taught me that articles of faith should never draw such stark divisions. I developed social sensitivity by engaging the world’s people in conversations about what God means to them and by working side by side with them to accomplish their goals for a smoother future. Formal education is my journey into communicating inclusion across cultures so that no other person has to suffer the phenomenology of marginalization as the result of the differences that make them valuable.

Thirty-six years later, my family still cannot accept my differing religious beliefs. Though I have studied every major religion in the world, religion is still a great source of fascination. Religious experience fires my passion to achieve more academically so that I may play a pivotal role in creating changes that better all of our lives.