Eboo Patel is a man on a mission—a really big mission.
Patel leads the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit organization he founded in 2002 as a way to connect young people of all faiths through community service and, in a big way, build cooperation in a world often divided by religion.
“There are a lot of people who believe we are better apart, whether that’s Muslims and Christians or blacks and whites or Americans and Arabs,” he said. “I believe we are better together. In a variety of ways, I make that idea reality.”
That idea has inspired the Rhodes Scholar and former COD student to take many bold steps in a career even he admits can be hard to wrap your head around.
Internationally, Patel’s organization has partnered with the New Delhi-based Kutumb Foundation to tackle issues like education, women’s health, the environment and conflict resolution. He has partnered also with the London-based Three Faiths Forum to start social action projects on their campuses. Closer to home, IFYC has teamed with One Chicago, One Nation, a philanthropic collaborative spearheading Better Together events throughout the area, including an interfaith community service day held in April, a joint venture with the Benedictine University Unity Foundation benefitting the Wayside Cross Homeless Shelter in Aurora.
“We want to create a movement in America with tens of thousands of college students who are committed to the idea that we’re better together,” said Patel, whose outreach vision has captured the attention of people in high places, including President Barack Obama.
Patel serves on the Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, an opportunity he attributes to friends, peers and contemporaries who likely recommended the activist, writer and teacher with a doctorate from Oxford University.
The 35-year-old delivered closing remarks at this year’s Nobel Peace Prize Forum and has spoken at the TED Conference, the Clinton Global Initiative and universities around the world. He is an affiliate of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University and its pioneering study of America’s changing religious landscape.
Named one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News and World Report (2009), he also writes The Faith Divide blog for the Washington Post and is a regular contributor to National Public Radio, USA Today and CNN. In his book, “Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation,” Patel chronicles his personal journey, from a young boy growing up in Glen Ellyn to a young man discovering his global purpose.
“We are all many possible people. How we become who we are has everything to do with which of those possibilities is nurtured,” he said. “College of DuPage helped nurture the intellectually curious, ethically focused Eboo Patel.”
The son of COD Accounting Professor Rukshad Patel explored many college subjects during his high school years. “Here was this wonderful resource right around the corner from where we lived,” he said, recalling the classes, the professors, even some of the lectures that became his introduction to some really big ideas.
“I am personally glad that what I got to do at College of DuPage was wander off the beaten path of typical professions, to whet my intellectual appetite a little bit, and then to follow that path to where it would lead me.”