This weekend, Pope Francis made a historic visit to Cuba, where he met with President Raul Castro, as well as Fidel Castro and held an outdoor mass attended by tens of thousands in Havana. Despite the fact that believers of faith were banned from membership in the Communist Party and the government is officially atheist, the Pope met with the Castros because true leadership engages with everyone -- including those you may not always agree with.
Moral leaders like the Pope have to relate with people who may not share their faith or their views, but are still part of the fabric of humanity. Contrast this commendable behavior to the outright bigoted and offensive statements made by Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson who said that he would "not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation," and to the harassment of 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed after he brought a homemade clock to school in Texas. One can only hope the Pope's visit reminds people that the highest level of morality is tolerance and not beating down those with different beliefs or views. One can only hope.
In 2000, I met with Fidel Castro despite the fact that there were many things we disagreed about. During the course of my work, I've met with many individuals from varying perspectives, including Shimon Peres in Israel and others, because I know that the more you engage and talk, the more you come to understand one another and reach common ground.
Next month, I'm on my way back to Cuba to continue a dialogue to ensure that Afro-Cuban businesses are included and benefit from our new relationship with the island nation. Perhaps what I should also be doing is meeting with right-wingers back home that represent intolerance and yet somehow want to be global leaders while representing this nation.
In April, Carson spoke at our annual National Action Network convention. Even though a large percentage of attendees disagreed with him on many issues like the Affordable Care Act and more, we hosted him because it's important that people hear directly from those who are attempting to run for the highest office in the land. And we will continue to reach out to those we differ with -- even those who have criticized me.
I have been castigated by the right because of my stance on immigration, same-sex marriage, my civil rights work, push for police reform and more. Regardless of the smear campaigns and fabricated lies against me, I would still sit down with anyone willing to have a substantive conversation about how we can keep progressing this country forward. As the Pope himself has so aptly demonstrated, we need more unity in our world.
"Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people," said the Pope in Cuba. I couldn't agree more. And anyone wishing to lead this nation should keep this in mind as the United States is blessed with a vast array of ethnicities, cultures and religions. No one should be marginalized or made to feel un-American because our diversity is in fact one of our greatest strengths.
The Islamophobia demonstrated last week with the arrest of young Mohamed in Texas to Carson's statements and Trump's inability to correct a supporter making bigoted comments should melt in the sunlight of the Pope's visit to the U.S. this week. I will join other religious leaders as we gather with the Pope at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. It reminds us that we all died together on that horrific day -- including innocent Muslims working in those towers. Can we now learn to live together even when trying to aspire to whatever office it is that we seek?
That is the test of true leadership.