A Broadened World, and Worldview

by Danielle Bahr Eason ’98 and Talia Bahr Goldfarb ’94

Williams has been an integral part of the Bahr family for over 50 years. Bob ’67 instilled his love for the college in his children, so that all three were excited to attend and are proud Williams alums: Talia ’94, Danielle ’98 and Jon ’02.

As we all know, there is a thread that connects all who are a part of the Williams community.  Often it manifests with friendships made, with career connections or in the excitement of seeing a Williams shirt or bumper sticker. Our family made a serendipitous connection on a cold night in February 2017 when activist Shaun King came to campus to speak for Claiming Williams Day. Since we play a small part in supporting this day of community, we decided to attend the event. 

Biko and Shaun King
Abubaker Ali Ba Abbad CDE ’17 and Shaun King

After the talk, an intimate group lingered for an impromptu question and answer with Mr. King. One student, a young man from Yemen, shared his recent experiences with drone strikes in his home country. His haunting words created an emotional reaction in the room and captivated the audience. When Shaun King responded, he said that no one there would forget the young man’s words, and we would carry them with us as we ventured into the world. 

Claiming Williams Day
Claiming Williams Day with Shaun King

He was right. For days, the Yemeni student was all we talked about. His words did haunt us. The powerful way in which this stranger had spoken compelled us to let him know that he had touched us. We reached out to a CDE administrator with the request that she forward an email of introduction to the student. Within a few minutes Abubaker Ali Ba Abbad CDE ’17, better known as Biko, wrote back. 

A phone call quickly followed, and immediately there was ease and comfort. We were strangers who actually weren’t strangers at all. Williams was the common thread. A connection had been forged on a day at Williams that was designed to do just that; Claiming Williams Day celebrates the ideals of inclusion, equity, diversity and understanding. Williams had created a setting for trust and a safe place to share, and we picked up where the day left off. Biko told us about his progressive parents who taught their children that learning English was the ticket to a better life.  He explained the dire situation in Yemen and how his family was surviving with little water or electricity. We were educated on Yemeni history, struggles and aspects of the news that we weren’t hearing about in the U.S. We also witnessed the stress and personal toll the cruelty of Muslim Ban had on Biko.

Biko’s family was so far away and in such a tenuous situation, and so we became his local family, offering emotional support and kindness including the occasional care package or visit.  When Talia spent spring break at our parent’s house in Providence, Biko went too. Later that year, Danielle proudly cheered Biko on at his graduation, where she was introduced to his friends and professors as his “American sister.”

Biko and Bahr Sister

Traditionally, CDE graduates return to their home country. This was not an option for Biko, given the political state of Yemen. An immigration attorney (whom we had also heard speak on that same Claiming Williams Day) was able to help him maneuver the Muslim Ban with visa assistance. In June 2017, Biko began work as part of the Yemeni Mission to the United Nations. Currently based in New York, Biko has traveled the world trying to help his country achieve peace.

Bikand Bahr parents
Biko outside CDE

Over the years, Biko has remained an important part of our family. He has been to our Thanksgivings and bat mitzvahs. In turn, we have participated in Ramadan celebrations and met via FaceTime with his Arabic-speaking family, with Biko serving as translator. Most recently we shared in the excitement of his proposal to his fiancé Pia, whom he met at Williams!

For us, Claiming Williams Day in February of 2017 fulfilled its mission: It allowed for our world to broaden, reinforced the power of human connection, and demonstrated the ways in which personal stories enrich learning and enhance lives.

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