Here is the full transcript of Noor Tagouri’s TEDx Talk: Calling on the 10,000 at TEDxFoggyBottom conference.
My name is Noor Tagouri and on most occasions I’m used to being the elephant in the room: an Arab woman who is a hijabi, who wants to be a news anchor talk show host, who probably has enough scarves to keep you warm for 17 arctic winters. But today, I am honored to be in this room filled with people who believe in unleashing the rebellious spirit within each of us.
My story starts in the first grade. I walked into my first grade class room and I noticed there was only one other girl with dark hair. I sat next to her and I whispered, “Are you Muslim too?” And she looked at me a little funny and responded, “Am I what??” And from that day on, for the next ten years, I would go through this paralyzing identity crisis. When we had to turn in forms for school that asked if we spoke any other languages at home, I would put mine at the bottom of the pile, and no one would know I spoke Arabic. When my friends asked why my mom wore that thing on her head, I’d say, “I don’t know.”
And when the Muslim holiday of Eid came around, I would wait until after Christmas break to use my gifts, because I wanted my friends to think I got gifts for Christmas too. And any time I think about this, I want to go back and shake myself and say, “What were you thinking?” But I wasn’t thinking, not for myself, at least I was following. Because I was still understanding what it meant to wage a personal rebellion. Now, when most of us think of rebellion, we think, some are rebellious by nature and others live passive lives of conformity.
We often think of rebellion as a resistance, an opposition: dyeing your hair green and burning your bras on a stick. But that’s not entirely true. I believe in rebellion as a form of honesty. To be our most authentic self is to be rebellious. Now I want you to take a moment and think of the best version of yourself possible.
Your dream self. Your truest self. We call this ‘your personal legend’, and we’ve all been familiar with our legends for quite some time now. This is who you’ve always wanted to be, what you’ve always wanted to accomplish. And we know that living our personal legend is the only means by which you can live a satisfying life.
Now, hold on, we’re going to do this together. Look to the person next to you and take a couple of seconds — literally, because I’m on a time crunch — but a couple of seconds to share your personal legend with them. All right, go!
All right – all right, guys — personal legend sharing time.
So my personal legend showed up when I was about 8 years old. I would come home from school, toss my book bag on the floor and rush to the living room to watch Oprah with my mom, 4 PM sharp, every single day.
Now I know everybody loves Oprah, like you, but I really loved Oprah: how she asked questions, how she prompted people to share their most vulnerable stories, and how she made everybody so comfortable in their chair. I wanted to do that. I wanted to be her. I had this fiery passion for asking questions and telling stories. And luckily, my parents noticed.
My mom would take me to writing camps and internships, my dad would sit and explain the news to me, and take me to visit journalists that I really admired. Now when I was living in that small town, I never ever in a million years thought that I would wear the hijab. But when I was about 15, we moved out of that small town, and just outside of Washington DC, I impulsively put on the hijab, determined to deal with my identity crisis.
Now I’d done my research and I learned that in the US there had never been a woman who wore the hijab who is a reporter on the commercial television market. So I was determined to make that happen.
I wanted to get a headstart, so I got a job at a local newspaper, homeschooled the rest of my high school, started college at 16, became a regular guest on Huff Post Live and then a Huffington Post blogger. And then in college something really great happened. I found this passion for spoken word poetry through one of my best friends and mentor, Jenahi.
And a few days after I turned 18, I prayed what we call in Islam istikhara, guidance prayer, and I asked God for guidance in the career path that I had chosen. Now the next morning after I prayed that prayer, I had a poetry performance for World Aids Day and after my performance a woman came up on stage, took the mic out of my hands and in front of everybody, she said, “Noor, you’re a broadcast journalism major?”
“Well, my name is Justine Love, I’m the Director for Community and Public Affairs, and I want you to come intern for us at CBS Radio in Washington.”
Yeah, I cannot even explain the feelings I had that day. But anyway — so that turned into a life changing internship, which quickly became a job as a board op and then an associate journalist. Then I started journalism school at the University of Maryland. And during this time, I obsessively shadowed and met with journalists. And at the end of every meet, I would ask them, “Do you truly think I have a chance of making this happen?” And some would say, “Yeah, sure”. Some would say, “No, not really. Is the headscarf really that important to you?”
And then some said, “Damn right, it will happen! It needs to happen!”
And so, one day, I shadowed a local news reporter, Jummy Olabanji, who is a really really good friend for the woman I interned for at CBS, Sunny, and while I was shadowing her, I sat in the anchor seat, just to see what it would feel like. She took out her iPhone and snapped a photo. And now I’m all about the law of attraction, and I believe that if you put out in the Universe good intentions, the Universe will conspire to help you become your personal legend. So I combined this profound belief with a Facebook post.
And I captioned it “This is what my dream looks like”, and I was determined to make that vision happen. Now one morning I woke up, and that photo had gone absolutely viral. Tens of thousands of people were sharing it, all over the world. And I remember — me and my mom were just talking about this — and we would refresh the page, and the numbers would just fly up, and we were like, “What’s going on??” So it was really incredible. This was when I really realized the power of living in a singular pursuit of a dream, a goal, a personal legend.
So I sat down with my family and we wanted to get others involved. My cousin Danya came up with ‘Let Noor Shine’. Now my name, Noor, means ‘light’, and we were determined to get others’ lights to shine. Let Noor Shine grew tremendously. People were sharing their dreams, their journeys and their struggles all over the world.
We became a community of vulnerable spirits and bundles of passion. And we thrived, on a global scale. This is really when I understood the power of social media and how connecting with people all over the world, and holding hands, virtual hands, was a power and a movement on its own. This story took me to travel all over the world, and I shared it with people that I never thought I would meet, and I was learning and sharing stories that I never dreamed of telling. I took my camera and gear in hand, and worked on my reporting skills, per the request of my incredible mentor Manny, and I started covering these incredible stories.
I was able to cover the Pope’s first mass at the Vatican in Italy, the expansion of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the mosque controversy in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the struggle of indigenous people in Indonesia, and sex trafficking in Washington DC. Now shortly after graduating from the University of Maryland, I got a job as a local reporter at a cable television station in Maryland. And I really understood, with this job and the job at the radio station, that my job and duty as a Muslim-Arab American journalist, goes far beyond correcting the pronunciations of Middle Eastern names.
I am the voice that explains my religion, that clarifies the context of cultural nuances, and that makes sure that when we are reporting stories regarding terrorist groups like ISIS, that we are reporting it in a way that does not generalize the Muslim population and put them in any association with these awful groups, and that especially, that this scarf on my head does not mean that I am submissive, or that I’m being oppressed, in fact, it empowers me in demystifying the stigma that surrounds Muslim women.
Now that background brings diversity that is so desperately needed in newsrooms today. We live in a country that is filled with every racial and ethnic background you can possibly think of. But unfortunately, that is not shown as much in the media, especially when it comes to news reporting.
But here’s the thing: we are storytellers. And how can we allow the narrative to constantly be told by people who do not understand the cultures and the background of the people whose stories they are telling? And yes, I might be a small voice in a couple of local newsrooms, but that — that is my job. In an interview Oprah had at Stanford University, she quoted Maya Angelou, and said, “I stand as one, but I come as 10,000.”
And upon first hearing that, I actually teared up, because I finally understood what it meant to be more than a body, to be more than one woman, to be more than just Muslim, or Arab, to be more than a single storyteller. I understood that each of us had the moral responsibility for living for more than just ourselves. We are one among the 10,000. We are one among the 10,000 and we have to be, for our bloodlines, for our homelands, for our genders and for our racial identities. And today, I ask you all to call on that 10,000.
Call on the legends that came before you. Call on your ancestors. Call on the women who forged the path for us. I ask that each of us use that strength and bask in it and remain authentic. And I pray that whenever each of you guys step foot out of this room today, that you are able to use that strength and continue on your personal legend and are that much closer to it.
And insha’Allah, God willing, we all rebel bravely. Thank you.