Challenging The Impossibility of Coexistence

As the 2016 New Year rolled in, I found myself in the home of the lead singer of a pop-alternative band from NYC, along with around twenty other musicians from various backgrounds and creeds, many of whom had not known each other before that night. After sharing a meal together, we dove into some challenging dialogue, trading stories of authentic connection and the struggle. Just one hour before, we were strangers, but amidst the storytelling and spontaneous jam sessions, the sounds of jazz-piano and 90s R&B a-cappella became a catalyst for new camaraderie. I knew I had caught a glimpse of something really special, and it was the sort of magic that can happen when curiosity, creativity, and compassion come together. On the surface, it looked like a pretty dope party, but really, something bigger was going on. These were the artists of the Noon Project, a musical collaboration of global artists working together to raise support for victims of ethnic and religious oppression in the Middle East. But our story starts a year ago, on a beach in Libya, whose coastline tragically became stained with innocent blood.

On February 15th 2015, ISIS broadcasted a video depicting the beheading of 21 Coptic men on the Libyan shores of the Mediterranean Sea because they were Christian and would not convert to radical Islam. Being a Coptic man, I saw 21 of “my own” lined-up along the shore, wearing orange jumpsuits, kneeling, heads down, silent but strong. I saw not only 21 men, but also a piece of our very nature as humans on the execution block. Seeing my own family in the faces of the 21, people who also left Egypt for their livelihood. After the initial emotions subsided and the dust settled, a few of us, armed not with weapons, but with our voices and our minds, came together with an idea to use art to draw attention to the plight of oppressed peoples, and find a way to support them in a practical way. This was the moment that sparked the birth of The Noon Project later that year. Many told me this was a bad idea—not because they disagreed with the mission, but rather due to the challenges such a project could involve. Despite the pushback, we believe our approach is the only way to save humanity from self-destruction.

The project didn’t start out with such a challenging mission. In fact, it was quite safe. The initial approach was to find Middle-Eastern artists to make music that will help Middle-Eastern victims of oppression. Makes sense, right? However it wasn’t long before I began to feel that this approach was short-sighted. While it is perfectly natural to have Assyrians, Chaldeans, Copts, Shia, Kurds and Yazidi helping out their own kind, there is something problematic about this strategy. This problem wasn’t apparent to me until I began talking about The Noon Project with some close and trusted friends who didn’t share the same cultural ties to the suffering as I do.

One friend in particular challenged me with the idea of creating a project where the team and the end product represent the kind of world we want to live in, one in which all voices are invited to the table; not just the ones representative of those we wanted to help. My initial reaction: Yes! Wait, no! My friend was calling out to a part of me that he himself knows well, because we share these ideals. But despite the growing fire in my heart, I resisted. I knew he was challenging me to do things that would make people uncomfortable, and while my 20-something year old self would relish the enjoyment of being provocative, my decade older self is no longer satisfied with actions for the sake of pushing other people’s’ buttons. I could hear the questions arise: Why would a Muslim want to sing on a record where the proceeds are helping victims of radical Islam? Is it possible for songs with Christian, Muslim, and Non-religious themes to share the same musical space? Why would a non-religious person get involved with helping the victims of religious persecution? In my own heart these questions were irrelevant. A record that brought everyone and every voice together made absolute sense to me, but, I just didn’t think it would be acceptable, or even palpable to others. So I politely set aside the challenge that I had almost taken up.

Soon, I was having conflicting thoughts would not rest. I began to see the world through a different lens, saturated and bleak; there seemed to be division in every aspect of life. Our country was more divided than I ever remember it being. Wars and riots erupted and continued to simmer, hatred persisted. I looked at the Noon Project and suddenly realized: if we don’t make this album inclusive, we might be creating yet another space where people will care about and fight for their own, but lack the space to exercise their empathetic muscles towards those different than them—a “silo of compassion.” And I didn’t have to go far, or wait too long to witness the effects of this silo.

Upon the news of the beheading of the 21 in Libya, my own social networks were flooded with a resounding cry for justice. The Coptic community was shouting to the world that this massacre was part of a greater story where Christian minorities in the Middle East live under constant threat of discrimination or worse fates. We shouted so that everyone would listen to us, that they would not only know what was happening, but that they would also care. United we stood, with our candle memes burning strong on our retina displays. But as we turn our eyes to the United States, where the country is facing a crisis, where young black men are the targets of racial injustice, the Coptic community as a whole becomes incredibly silent on the issue. Being victims of injustice ourselves, we should be the first to recognize when injustice exists, or at the very least have the empathy to relate, and possibly share our voices on the matter.

This behavior is not unique to the Coptic community by any means. We, as humans, do not naturally relate to the struggles of others whom we consider different than ourselves. It’s how we all operate. We focus on the struggles of those similar to us, and minimize, or sometimes ignore the struggles of another, and much of that has to do with our own limitations of airtime, resources, and perceived emotional capacity. You see, many of us share a collective vision for the world, one that involves people of all colors holding hands and singing songs of peace, but we cringe when it comes to what it might take to get there. But it feels like a form of hypocrisy for those who have experienced injustice to knowingly or unknowingly withhold compassion from others who are experiencing it themselves. This behavior contends that my struggle, and therefore my existence, is more important than yours, rather than acknowledging our shared human identity.

It is not my intention to minimize the difficulty of such a task. There are reasons for the separation between people. There has always been enough evil, violence, and greed in the world, that separation in some cases had become necessary for the survival of some. But is this a sustainable model? These were the concerns that I wrestled with for a long time, and which eventually led to a change we had to make in the Noon Project.

While we would maintain our goal of helping persecuted minorities in the Middle East, we decided to open up our doors and invite artists and collaborators from all backgrounds, faiths, and ethnicities to participate in the making of this record. While the Noon Project first and foremost exists as an attempt to grant justice to those who have been stripped of their own, we took on a very important secondary goal: to be a model of coexistence in a divided world.


The idea was that if we could bring people together from different backgrounds, and invite them to share their own experiences through music and art, then there would be dialogue, inquiry, and new understanding. I am happy to report that this vision is becoming a reality! On January 2nd, 2016, we had our 2nd Noon Artists gathering for NYC, where local bands and solo artists who have made submissions for the record came together to share a night of community and dialogue. At this gathering we began having these very conversations, and many were exposed to stories, and perspective they had not encountered before. Even if this experiment in empathy reaches only as far as within the community of artists working on this project, it could be a small but powerful shift and one that we hope can radiate outwards. We aren’t setting out to change the world, but we are determined to be an example for what is possible when a group of people create something together while recognizing the common thread of humanity connecting them.

What is our response to #‎BlackLivesMatter, the Syrian refugee crisis, the multiple attacks on Paris over the last year, the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in America, the attack against Christians, Muslims, Yazidi, and Kurds in Iraq, the growing suicide and homeless rate of LGBT American teens, and the barriers of education to young women in many parts of Africa? If empathy is a resource, how rich are we? Will we continue to only acknowledge the struggles of our “own kind,” or can we begin to open hearts to our neighbor and begin to see ourselves in them? Maybe then we can begin to shed this illusion of an “us vs. them world” and can start to experience something far better. And this is why our project is built on this foundation.

Unless we model coexistence in a radical way, there is no war, no revolution, nor any amount of political correctness that can actually move the needle of humanity towards peace.

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Are you a musician and share in our vision? Apply for a spot on our record!


10 Ways To Change TheWorld

1. Invest in Education

Education is a human right that is often treated as a privilege. When my friends and I started Seeds For Hope, we had a dream to provide access to those if given just a small chance, could change their world, and the world around them.

Angela’s story, above is just an example of how education can turn a life around. It’s not just about earning a degree, but the confidence that is instilled in a person through their achievements will last them the rest of their lives.

2. Connect Young People to the Arts

Music, poetry, dance, theater: are all mediums for self and collective expression. Joy, pain, sorrow, fear, and celebration are all expressed through the arts. Young people are often not shielded from the tragedies of this world, and art can be an outlet, and a tool for youth, to work through their experiences. SFH’s Arts for Life program, connects arts professionals with Kenyan schools, in order to use music, art, poetry and theater to teach skills, and help deal with the challenges of the world around. The video above is the result of one of these workshops. “You Might Think” is a powerful piece were students expressed in their own words their true identity vs. the way others may look at them.

3. Get out and see the world!

You can only learn so much about the world around you from books, magazines, and reality TV. There are many misunderstandings between people in the developing world and people in the west. Despite our access to social media, you can only go so far with a tweet. SFH connects students with others abroad, through volunteer programs and workshops. The collaborations and dialogue that result from these programs encourage understanding, compassion, and a greater sense of our connectedness on this planet. The video above is a short film about one such collaboration between a NYC rock musician, and a girls school in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya. Watch the trailer above, or the entire mini-documentary, to see how this collaboration impacted everyone involved.

4. Invest locally

Investing in students through a scholars program is just one part of the equation. It’s important to invest in local organizations, in order to see a sustainable changes in a landscape. Local organizations have the most effective means to impact a community. They have the history, network, and most importantly, the relationships, in order to make change happen! Seeds For Hope also invests in local organizations who possess a model for sustainable growth and positive impact in their communities. Kibera Girls Soccer Academy is just one of these organizations, where our initial seed funding helped launch the school to great heights. Learn more about our partners here.

5. Be loyal. Foster relationships.


While we have over 200 alumni of our SFH Scholars Fund, for us, education and scholarship is not a numbers game. We are a small organization, having large impact in the lives of individuals. One of the things our students have told us that have made the most difference, is that we have committed to each one through the duration of their academic program. Not just on an organizational level, but even as volunteers, donors, we give a little then depart, which sometimes is the only thing we are able to do, with the demands of life. But making a conscious choice to invest in an organization or individual for the long run, we leave the realm of “charity” and enter into the realm of interdependence and mutual respect, which is so much more transformative than any hand out can ever be. When we invest in a student, we don’t just commit to them for a single term or year, but rather, once a student is granted a scholarship, we are committed to them for the duration until they complete that particular level of schooling. With each of our students, we offer guidance and mentorship and other support, so that all barriers to the learning process can be removed in an effort to increase their chances at success. Learn more about how we work with our scholars.

6. Invest In Career Oriented Programs

Survival based employment is a common way of life for many young people. In places like Kenya, young people will drop out of school as young as 12 years old, to begin working as a day laborer, to earn pennies for hours of work. With education being costly past primary school, families would rather have their children work than continue their education. Many charities out there, will help teach young people skills that are not marketable outside of large factory environments. Having hard skills is important for income, but career oriented programs are all about the big picture.

Our scholars are encouraged to not only do well and complete their education, but in addition, know themselves and discover their dreams, so that when they finish, they can begin following them.

80% of our grads have moved away from this mindset of employment as a survival technique but rather, have put themselves on career paths towards making their dreams come true.

7. Invest in girls FIRST.


There is a saying that when you educate a girl, an educated girl becomes an educated woman, and an educated woman, can become an educated mother, and an educated mother will have educated children, which leads to the transformation of a family, a community, and even a whole society. Seeds for Hope gives priority to young women. In the developing world, women are very much at risk, and at the same time, crucial to the eradication of dependence and poverty.

Education is a gift that continues to give. Many of our scholars will have the ability to put their own siblings and children into school because of their ability to increase their income. What happens is, a family becomes no longer reliant on charity but is now self sustaining. Educating one person can lead to freedom for a whole number of people. Because Our program leads to graduates being proactive in the lives of others breaking the cycle of poverty and dependence.

8. Invest in small businesses


Investing in community groups and local businesses can achieve longterm economic empowerment through income generating activities that are locally owned and lead. Syana Nzeo (which means Good Children in Kikamba) is a group of elderly caregivers caring for 150 AIDS orphans in the Ukambani province in Kenya. In 2012, They approached us to set up a poultry business that could sustain the educational costs of their children. It proved to be very successful and this business supports education and other household expenses until today! Read more about it on our blog.

9. Invest in programs that promote education on relational and sexual health.

Despite our modern access to information, young people all over the world are still at a crossroads in the decisions they have to make, regarding their relationships and themselves. HIV is still an epidemic in many parts of the world, where young people don’t have all the information they need, that can protect them. When a young person is educated in the realm of sexuality and relationships, they get a better understanding of how to take care of themselves and their partners.

10. Remind a young person that they CAN make a difference


Through 11 years of working with SFH, one thing that we noticed most, is that our scholars are now part of a generation of people who want to influence the coming generation of dreamers; many of our scholars will volunteer and mentor current students in the program. Read about some of our scholars, as they describe these transformations in their own words. We see clearly that investing in education not only changes the course of an individual’s life, but creates a ripple effect from the student to the world around them.

Seeds For Hope is a 501©3 Non-Profit organization, registered in the United States and Kenya, whose mission is to promote holistic development among underserved children and youth in Kenya through integrated health and social programs that expand access to education, health services and economic opportunity transforming them, their households and their communities at large.

Our vision is for a world where access is a right, not a privilege!

Help us make a difference!

We are competing for a grant with Microsoft, the Upgrade Your World campaign. Cast your votes on Twitter mentioning @seedsforhope with #UpgradeYourWorldKE and #Vote.. We’ve created some great tweets for you here:

You can also make a tax-deductible donation here:


Hacking Ebola

Not your typical Friday. Back from a sushi dinner, long overdue, with a close friend. And I’m remembering the first thing I saw on my computer this morning when I opened Chrome:Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 10.22.50 PM


My trusty Momentum Chrome Extension was quite adept  in forecasting the course of my day, first of all, with a photo of the Bay Area, the only photo from US soil I’ve seen in weeks, and then the quote by Margaret Mead which reads:

“Never underestimate the ability of a small group of dedicated people to change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Nothing could have been more appropriate or prophetic for what was to lay in store for me that evening.   At 5pm, in a conference room in downtown Oakland, I sat in a room with a lawyer, a technical leader, a healthcare professional, a design thinker, a freelance engineer, a biotech hardware engineer, a techno-cultural community organizer, a marketer, an investor, all brought together by what I would describe as a renaissance man, musician and technolgist, CEO and Founder of Feykena, Dwalu Khasu.  Who has a razor sharp determination to accomplish one goal with this small group of individuals: Eradicate Ebola from the planet.    I’ve never in my life participated in the discussion around something so grand, however I was not overwhelmed, but completely and utterly inspired.    In a few weeks, the plan is to hold a Hackathon in San Francisco, to create practical, and innovative solutions to the various concerns of people on the ground: healthcare workers, those infected, and those who are not.    While Silicon Valley remains silent,  and CEO’s wives pour money into the CDC, there is a small meeting of the minds, but these are not just any regular people, but I felt I was sharing a room with giants.  The brain power, passion, compassion, resources, and influence in this room, just humbled me.

I hear the voice of Boromir: One does not simply walk into Mordor.

One of the very first things that needs to happen, is to change the narrative, stop the fear mongering, and become a voice of calm and reason, and where we can: help and educate.   Keep your eyes peeled, I’m not sure where this is going, but the call has been answered.

This kind of irreverent boldness is necessary in times of crisis.