Thirty years ago I was a freshman business major at Ithaca College. I had just returned from a summer living with Palestinian laborers on an Israeli settlement construction site. I was politically naive, optimistic and growing more confused by the day.
I took a class with Dr. Barlas and I began thinking more deeply about my own life and travels, began understanding nationalism and the harms involved in most ism’s. I started reading like never before. From Edward Said to Benedict Anderson and so much in between.
Asma opened my eyes and my brain to searching, to learning, to discussing, but mostly to listening… to the voices that are not just near but those that are faint and far away.
Her words have echoed with me again and again over the years as I:
- Started graduate school to study secular versus religious nationalism in the Arab Israeli Conflict.
- Became a chef, built my first restaurant, Stella’s, here in Ithaca, and when asked by journalists I happened to say that the food was “…eclectic anti nationalist cuisine.”
- Lived in Mali as a Peace Corps volunteer working with community groups.
- Worked with former First Lady Michelle Obama to push access to healthy food to all kids in need across the country.
Now, I run what many say is one of most innovative anti-hunger organizations in existence, focused on dignity, community and choice for all. We serve well over 10,000 families healthy foods and support services each year. But our system continues to be rigged across the globe for so many groups for many many centuries. It’s the same story that I started reading in Global Politics with Dr. Barlas thirty years ago, and it sticks with me.
I think about the spring classes out on the quad, listening to many voices and Dr. Barlas saying that I “speak softly and carry a big stick.” It was the highest of compliments and it set me up for how I work with my teams today. I listen, learn, focus, support my teams and intervene with force only when truly needed.
I have never stopped pushing and learning, and I refuse to accept that we cannot change our world. I cook for and with my community each day. My hope is for more communities across the globe to have the power they need to grow and support themselves with the dignity and choice they deserve. And for this dream to become reality we will need more Asma’s out there in every corner of the globe influencing and empowering more students to find their voice and life’s work to effect change.
I am forever thankful to have crossed paths, had many words edited, and been profoundly impacted by Dr. Barlas.