I imagine myself sitting in a New York theatre, one with velvet red curtains and a single microphone occupying the stage. Qasim Rashid walks out from backstage and introduces himself. It seems like he's talking to the whole theatre, but when I look around, there's only me. He's talking right at me, though he never looks at me directly. Instead he tells whoever may be listening that something's gotta give. USA seems to be descending into a self-consuming spiral of hatred and intolerance. From increasing normalisation of religious bigotry, to the spectre of racism that never really went away, to an education system that too often inspires despair rather than hope, many Americans today no longer expect a better tomorrow. These are problems not just facing the USA, but facing much of Europe too, with calls for social division gaining currency in straitened societies. For many in the Western World, it feels like we're starting to go backwards and not forwards, and to Rashid that's simply unacceptable.
So he has a plan. He wants to start a quiet revolution, one that takes place in our hearts and minds rather than on the streets. From the first stories he tells in his new book 'Talk To Me,' we get a glimpse of what made this influential speaker and writer who he is--how he was taught to be 'hate-conscious' by elders in his religious community, how as a young man he mouthed off to authority figures and saw the best of leadership in return. It feels like he's on-stage the whole time, speaking right to you. You live those formative moments with him, understanding them as he understood them, moments which challenge you as it challenged him so many years ago. As the evening goes on, you stay enthralled by the stories, and more so when you realise Qasim's not alone. Rather, he's got friends that have come from all over the nation with him. He invites them on-stage to talk to you too.
Many of their stories are beyond moving. There's the lone Muslim defence lawyer who's struggling with her own abusive relationship as her clients struggle in theirs; the Pastor who finds racism working against him in the Church he trusts; the white man who suddenly refuses to name his young black assailants on the stand in Court; the Neonatal ICU Nurse who is unable to have her own children but spends her life treating the ailing children of others. You thank your lucky stars the audience lights are dimmed because were they not, the speakers might just see the tears springing to your eyes.
"Talk To Me: Changing the Narrative on Race, Religion, and Education" is a book that is hard to fault. With around 360 pages of these stories, you could imagine that it becomes tough-going after a while. To counter this, Rashid wisely splits each mini-story into chapters only a few pages long, ensuring things stay snappy. If the story you just read bore heavily on you, Qasim uses his gift for levity to make you laugh out loud just a few pages later. The author interweaves his own story with those of others, taking you through an eye-opening world of racial, religious and educational injustices. But remarkably, your new friends on-stage aren't complaining--rather, they're inspiring you with their own examples. Whilst highlighting the problems that surround them, they tell you how they're overcoming them, bringing communities together against all the odds. Each one of them asks you to join them, and as the curtain falls, it's impossible to say no.