One Mean Story
From Lady Gaga to the Ground Zero Mosque
It was my final semester at New York University, and I had it all figured out. Sure, I had my finals, and picking up my cap and gown, but I knew I was going to graduate and begin immediately working full-time leading World Faith, an interfaith youth action organization I founded the year before. This was a pretty significant departure from my original plan. I was graduating from the Music Business program at NYU, and had already founded my own record label, Çöñàr Records, as well as producing records, booking shows, and managing artists such as Lady Gaga, Childish Gambino, Honey Larochelle, and Elin.
After spending months building World Faith Chapters from Lebanon to Sudan, I returned to the US with the realization that I wouldn’t be able to raise enough funding to cover my own salary. So I spent a full day preparing an updated resume, cover letter, and went to bed with the plan to begin applying the next morning. The next morning on Sept 29, after scanning job postings, I opened the Huffington Post to find the headline “Dow Jones Drops 777 points.” Suddenly the job postings vanished, and like many young people, I was running out of options.
One of the main skills I gained from my work in the music industry was that of social media and marketing. So, with little prospects of getting a “real job,” I began freelancing in social media to make enough money, while saving enough time to run World Faith. My first gig was a web design project for a Jamaican tour guide, named Sexy Rexy. What began as a short contract turned into a two year journey, in which we built a full social media presence, a video campaign with over a million views, and a short documentary on the hysterically complicated character of Sexy Rexy, complete with taking a film crew to Jamaica twice. It was a curious amazing experience, particularly for a former music manager turned social entrepreneur.
Between leading World Faith into spreading across a dozen countries spanning the globe, and my unique film project, I began getting referrals for more consulting work. One day, Samir Selmanovic, who I like to call the interfaith Einstein, brought me to meet a couple who run connected interfaith organizations, who were concerned about promoting their joint new project. Progressive Muslims themselves, they were looking to get the message about a new community center they wanted to build a few blocks from the mosque the husband of the couple led. After signing a three-month contract to help them with social media and PR, I got straight to work. Scanning blogs, I noticed that a blogger from the Bronx wrote a scathing dissent of the project, dubbing it “the Ground Zero Mosque.” In what could only be called the Summer of Islamophobia, I witnessed the unjust characterization of good people as extremists from the inside while consulting them during those months. Once I finished the contract, I partnered with my good friend Joshua Stanton to found Religious Freedom USA. We began advocating for Jewish and Christian leaders to speak out in support of Park51, and organized a 1,000-person demonstration called the Liberty Walk.
Over the past few years, World Faith has grown into one of the largest interfaith development organizations in world. In 2012, we mobilized over 3,000 volunteers to complete of 50,000 hours of service. At the same time, my freelance consulting has grown, completely by word of mouth, until it become time to grow up, build a brand, and hire some brilliant folks to join me. Michelle is a recent graduate of Dartmouth, with an obsession for web platforms (and science fiction). Rico is a much sought-after designer, who just happens to be a world-class poet on the side.
It’s at this point when the Mean Communications story is no longer mine, but ours. The question is, will it become yours?