I Wanted Columbia So Bad, I Didn’t Have a Plan B.

At Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 8.08.44 PMthe start of 2015, I lined up all my ducks in a row, knowing I wanted this year to be better. I am a nut, I read my horoscopes, I am into astrology, I think manifesting and belief is power, and most importantly I meditate. These habits throughout the years have fluctuated, but I definitely have faith in them. 2014 was an interesting year for me, I started it out working on one of the most demanding projects of my young career with Vice NEWS and finally returned to the United States permanently. I also, if you know me, went through a divorce. The magnitude of the changes in my life at first was very overwhelming.

Divorce is the hardest decision I have ever made, I broke my heart and my ex-wife’s because I knew there was something better for the both of us. The emotions you feel can be debilitating, it was extremely hard some days to wake up and even get out of bed, but every morning that I forced myself to function made me stronger and more confident. Coming back to the U.S. I had a plan, I wanted to become the person I know I am and that I am supposed to be. For many, the fear of losing what you have and the unknown would stop a person from turning their life totally upside down just to have to rebuild it over again, but when you feel in your heart with utmost passion and belief that your existence is valuable and there is a greater purpose, you make that decision.

I was now divorced, broke, a freelancer who lost most his network, back at my parents home, and not sure where to go in life. So I started with the basics, I started a committed routine of exercise and meditation. I knew if I healed my body, my mind, and my soul, that I could start to feel some ownership over what felt like a big storm. It was the best thing I could have ever done in my life. I learned to treat my body like the beautiful temple that it is and I reconnected myself with my mind. I found all the abundance I thought was missing was right in front of me. My heart and soul grew with gratefulness for the simple things. I quickly regained my confidence and decided to do something that had intimidated me for years, apply for graduate school.

I have always believed in two things about myself, but they were not always in sync. First, that I am an awfully hard worker and second, I get what I want. I guess at times I find myself to have a lot of audacity. When it came time to apply for graduate school, I had planted the seeds years before. I already knew my choice, Columbia School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York City, the top school in the world for my profession. Years ago I had flirted with the idea visiting the campus and befriending many Columbia J-School students and alumni, but at the time the shitty rationalizing part of my brain told me I wasn’t good enough. I was convinced that my degree from Cal Poly Pomona and the work I had done was not up to par with Columbia’s standards. But, when the shit hits the fan you dig deep and go after what you want.

I started the process of applying for graduate school in September. I decided that I would also consider UC Berkeley School of Journalism, you know just in case… I visited Berkeley’s info sessions, popped up randomly to see the staff, and really get a feel for the school, but those visits left me feeling empty. See I had left my heart in NYC and I knew I wanted to be at only one school, the catch was that the school just needed to want me back. So when November came, I did my applications for Berkeley, but the energy was not positive, very toxic actually. I had too many minds telling me how to write my essays, what work I should submit, and how I should really focus on going to Berkeley because of my chances of getting to Columbia seemed slim.

I wanted Columbia so bad, I didn’t have a plan B.

Luckily, Columbia’s application due date was Dec. 15th, just enough time for me to center myself and make the application a fluid and satisfying process. I collected the work samples I was proud of, letters of recommendations from those I trusted and had seen me in my best light, and I wrote three essays, that may or may not be brilliant, but were my voice. I submitted the application and began manifesting my life in NYC. I would wake up most mornings and head to the famous Runyeon Park in Los Angeles, run till I felt sick and then meditate. I reminded myself every day of all the beauty in my life and how powerful each one of us truly is. I would show gratefulness to the universe for giving me confidence, composure, and the audacity to want something amazing. I believed, like all of us should, that I deserved this.

Relentlessly, I thought about NYC and Columbia J-School, so much that I believed I was going to be there no matter what. I had no choice, remember there was no plan B. See I didn’t want to attend Berkeley, but I considered it a litmus test and it also triggered many people around me saying I should start planning for the worst. Well, I maintained my “no mind” philosophy, which I adopted from the great movie “The Last Samurai,” and didn’t listen. I was determined to be at Columbia, so I continued doing what had brought me this far, I believed.

Sure enough, a few weeks later I received my admittance letter to Columbia Journalism School. Booyah!

Listen, 6 years ago I was working in an industry I did not like, no college education, and my future felt bleak. Over the course of those 6 years, I married a beautiful woman who changed my life forever, she gave me a new way to look at the world and helped me find my passion. I finished college and quickly entered into a profession that is aligned with my existence. Our marriage didn’t work out, but I do not think of it as a failure, it was a success. We both grew immensely personally and professionally and I believe became better individuals because of it. I thank her for that.

As I gear up to make my move to NYC to start J-School for the fall I want to express my gratefulness to everyone who has touched my life, whether negative or positive. I have learned so much about my existence this last year and that we are beautiful creations always evolving. I am impressed with the resilience of the soul, that even in times of pain and despair that we can still nurture ourselves and blossom. I give my love and thanks to you all from the deepness of my heart. Hello New York City! To all of you, visit me!

By: Adnan Khan

Instagram: @khancious

Twitter: @AdnanKhancious

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A Letter to My Professor

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In May 2013, I had been in Bangladesh for almost two months and met a new side to the country that in my past I had never encountered. What had changed was, first I was not a tourist visiting various families homes around Dhanmondi or the Tri-City (BGB a.k.a. Baridhara, Gulshan and Bonani, the affluent areas of the capital Dhaka.) Second, I had a new lens to see the world through, after earning my degree in political science. I have a strong fascination in dissecting everything from life, to current events, or politics whether it be rational or esoteric. My stay in Bangladesh entertained my senses and the substance that makes me who I am. I am definitely a different human being after my stay. Since then my life has changed dramatically, but I am grateful for the life lessons I have learned. As I continue my journey in becoming a great journalist, I would like to share an email to my professor on how I perceived the chaos the first couple months I started working in journalism.
Below is what I wrote to my Professor.

Hello Dr.            ,

Thank you for the response, I was excited to see you received my card. I truly am grateful I had the opportunity to take one of your classes.

I came to Bangladesh joined a journalist currently working with a local English publication Dhakatribune.com and a correspondent/producer for Al-Jazeera English. I have been joining her on stories as a production assistant. Most notable is the recent collapsing of a building in Savar, Bangladesh which held 5 garment factories. The casualties have passed 1,000 deaths. This experience has been eye-opening for me. Not just because of the graphic nature of the incident, but also the response of the Bangladesh government and these foreign retailers.

For my senior thesis, I covered the corruption in Bangladesh, which I had the pleasure to speak with the executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh and experts in academia, during my trip in December 2012. The events that are unraveling here for me are intense. Being that I freshly graduated from the political science department, I have taken an observers position in the events of this country. Bangladesh is a country that is suffering from so many issues right now that it is painful to watch. Besides the constant issues in the garment sector, the country is facing elections, which are creating disarray for the public as the current party Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh National Party duke it out. The current issues tied to the elections are the battle for a caretaker government to hold power during the elections so that neither party has an advantage. In this case, the sitting party, the Awami League and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, will not instate the caretaker government, which in recent elections has been used.

Also, the current government is holding trials known as the International Crimes Tribunal. They are trying perpetrators who are being charged with crimes performed during the Liberation War of 1971 when Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan. There are claims that 3 million people were killed and 300,000 women were raped and tortured. The tribunals do not sit well with many because many of the individuals being tried are prominent members of the Bangladesh National Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami party. These two parties have an alliance and are the opposite of the Awami League.

The verdicts of the trials have been all consistent with the charges and the punishments are life in prison or death by hanging. The government and the courts have not given access to foreign organizations or the media, which also has created some distrust in how the trials are being conducted.

These current political issues mixed with the rampant corruption and the other weighing problems that the underdeveloped nation have been making the population very unsettled. Almost every other day we witness Hartals, which are strikes conducted by the opposition party and other organizations. Two non-political groups that have the strong following are Shabagh, who is the liberal student body of Bangladesh who organizes in Shabagh Square in Dhaka. They are fighting to keep Bangladesh secular and reinforce the rights of freedom of speech. They also are strong voices against corruption and demand accountability and transparency. The second group is Hafazat Islami. This group is a pro-Jamate Islami group of youth, who sprung from the rural areas. Many are products of the madrases in Bangladesh. They are fighting to make Bangladesh an Islamic nation, to introduce the blasphemy law, hang atheist bloggers and protesters, and remove women from public life; these can be found in their list of 13 demands. In recent weeks they are also responsible for the violent protest and clashes with law enforcement.

In the midst of all of this, I am trying to do some volunteering with BangBallers, an organization that is using basketball as a tool to bring together youth and JAAGO a foundation to fix poverty with education and organization. This year will continue to get more eventful as campaigns for elections continue, the tribunals continue, and the aftermath of Savar.

I hope all is well with your professor. Thank you for your lessons, my time with you was priceless. You gave me a new lens to see the world. Please stay in contact.

Abundance,

Adnan

Bangladesh makes world’s biggest human flag

Bangladesh makes world’s biggest human flag

I had the privilege last year on December 16, 2013, Bangladesh’s Victory Day to attend the Dhaka’s National Parade ground, where 27,117 Bangladeshi students and armed forces held up red and green placards to create the World’s largest human flag. The flag is the Bangladeshi national symbol which was hoisted up during their claim to independence from Pakistan on December 16, 1971, after a nine-month war that left over 300,000 women raped and  3 million people dead, at the hand of the Pakistani Armed Forces and collaborators (rajakars).

Many people criticized the government for organizing the attempt at the record. At the time the elections were a month away as the incumbent party, the Awami League, decided to go forward with the elections despite the opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party, boycotting the elections out of protest for the removal of a caretaker government, which had been utilized in previous elections to keep them fair. As a result of the large disagreement between the parties, there was constant violence and instability throughout the country.

There is always a plethora of things going on in Bangladesh. The main current events are still the fight between AL and BNP, unregulated garment sector, the controversial International Crimes Tribunal for the war criminals during the 1971 Liberation war, crimes against ethnic and religious minorities, overall corruption of government and bureaucracy, Islamic fundamentalism, Christian fundamentalism, gang-rape, the list goes on.

There a lot of problems in the country which I aim to address in the future, but when I was living in Dhaka, I also reconnected with my roots, my culture, and my father’s tongue. I saw the beauty in the country that my family spoke about. It’s a dog eat dog world out there, the struggle is real, but Bangladeshis are some on the nicest people in the world. I was excited as every individual that participated in the record breaking attempt, because I too have pride for my Bangladeshi ancestry, and any triumph is a triumph. We gotta celebrate every victory, so enjoy the video, it was thrown together quick, but if you weren’t there I hope it gives a little glimpse into what 30,000 Bangladeshis look like.

 

 

Authenticity

When President Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 as the first biracial president of the United States, a major topic of discussion was his race.

Obama is half White American and half African.  The discussion on his identity emerged from both White and Black communities. Mind you, this individual was running for the most powerful position in the world, President of the United States of America, and because of his race,  the public dissected him. This topic really stuck with me.

Some White pundits tolerated Obama’s mixed identity enough to give him their approval. Other White pundits fixated on his African side; President Obama’s father was an immigrant from Kenya, which made him that much more “un-American.” I won’t even step into the birther argument.

Then you had the Black community of America. Yes, President Obama symbolizes that a Black man can become president of the United States of America. But there was another argument.

There were many conversations, even among my circles that Obama wasn’t really Black or Black enough. He was educated at the best schools, spoke English sophisticatedly, and his mother was White.

I saw this; a fellow biracial individual could not catch a break. He was being assessed on his authenticity. Whether it was the White community or the Black community, he had to fit the racial construct that both races had built to approve.

If you are biracial like me, then you understand this tightrope you walk on. I applaud those who threw all fears to the wind and defined themselves early on. Others though, including me, don’t always face the judgment of our “people” with grace.

It’s irking when others are looking to categorize or authenticate us all the time. 

I do not look like a white American, dark hair, dark eyes, and dark skin. Yet I don’t look much like a Bangladeshi. Shit, I have been mistaken as Latino, Arab, Native American, and every other flavor of brown. Every now and then you have someone who is a little sharp and they ask if I have some Indian or Pakistani in me. 

Whether it is the White or South Asian communities, I always feel an obligation to prove that I can hang.

With the White Americans, I have my “I’m American as apple pie” spiel. It goes like this, “I was born in Worcester Mass, my mothers a French Canadian Heinz 57 grew up in Gardener Mass, and I love the Red Sox!” That tends to get me by a bit, cause I have a little remnant of my Bostonian accent in speech and I really do love the Red Sox.

Yes, I have the ability to be authenticated, or have I? The brown skin does require a second glance.

I am not White.

 In America when you meet someone for the first time, the first question you get is: How is the weather?

With my Bangladeshi counterparts it is works a little bit different. When you meet a Bangladeshi the first question that comes to mind is: “Where are you from?”

This is a deep question. So you always have a lot to talk about.

Genius.

For me my answer goes like this, “Well my father, he is Bangladeshi, he is from Rajshahi, and well, my mother, she is White American.” Most of the time, I see a look of disappointment and confusion.  Instantly, the second question arises, “Do you speak Bangla.” And I answer, “No.”

Eyebrows rise with disgust; I have not met their standards.

I am not Bangladeshi.

Since I was a child, I had people from both communities categorize my identity(s). Their answers are still consistent today in my adult life. I have had whites tell me to stick with “my kind” because of my dark skin. The Bangladeshis and South Asians say I act too white and that I should lean towards that side.

No one wants me.

Yet, there are the “compassionate” ones who want to fix this coconut (that is a person who looks brown on the outside but acts white on the inside). I’m also told I am an ABCD (American Born Confused Deshi).

Well okay, but now you dismissed that I am mixed.

It is complicated, or is it? 

Before I move to Bangladesh at the beginning of this year, I had made not only an identity declaration, but also a spiritual declaration.  I am not anything. I exist and I am human.

The world is fixated on race and ethnicity.

How can I search within myself for the attributes or characteristics, give them variables, organize them and then calculate a number that qualifies me into the two categories. Is it as black and white as 50% White American and 50% Bangladeshi?

Technically speaking my mother has a variety of European ancestry, hence the label a Heinz 57. My father is Bangladeshi, but there is Pathan (people of eastern Afghanistan) and Iraqi in his blood. There is no clear definition of their identity either.

I do not know the inner dialogue that takes place in President Obama’s mind. For the United States, he is the best of both worlds– a hybrid. Racism is still very alive, but he symbolizes so much more. He is evidence that two worlds can come together through love and produce life. He is a dream come true to minorities that the most powerful position in the world can be reached. 

To me he authenticated himself in his own way.

From him I learned I really do not owe it to anybody to be anything. I owe it to myself to be me. That is authentic. You know what you get, 100% me.

I just BE. 

I’m me, I’m me, Who Am I?

My beautiful parents.
My beautiful parents.

July 15, 1983, after 36 hours of labor my mother delivered me in Worcester, Massachusetts. That is a long time to be in labor, especially without C-section. The young doctor, who had just finished his residency, said my heart was strong and I was going to come out healthy. My mother tells me this was more than an assessment of my physical capability, but also of my personality. I am a fighter.

My name was already chosen, Mubassar Adnan Oliva Khan is what is on my birth certificate.  I like to think this was an announcement to the world. My Bangladeshi grandfather named me. Mubassar meaning – Bringer of good news, a prophet, Adnan – one who is settled, pleasure, and Oliva – to represent my French Canadian heritage, which means olive. My last name is Khan – meaning leader, a king, or a prince.  When I was young I embraced it as prince. Prince happened to be my nickname as a child too thanks to the story La Petite Prince that my mother read to me as a child.

These names to me were a proclamation of a future prophet, a philosopher, and a sensitive cat that had it written in his destiny to change the world. That’s how I managed to cope with the jumble of unpronounceable words that made up my name, as other kids made fun of me. Childhood is interesting like that. As jovial and understanding as children can be, they also quickly become a reflection of their parents’ ethnocentric principles.

Growing up in the 80’s, I was different.

My father came from the young country of Bangladesh, 7 years shortly after their liberation from Pakistan to further his education. He fell in-love with my mother, an artist major from a small town in northern Massachusetts.

I was a black haired, dark eyed, and light skinned mutt, yes that’s what us mixed kids are called, just like dogs of a mixed litter.

I remember being in kindergarten when a classmate of mind decided to make an observation of my identity. He said, “Why is your mom WHITE and your dad BLACK?” He was off, to be politically correct my dad is BROWN! Good question, Inever noticed. Was it my innocence or was it the color of my parents skin was very apparent to everyone else? I had never noticed. To me they were my parents and I had never seen a difference.

This shook my world! At that moment I realized I was different. When I went for playtime at my classmates homes I started to notice their parents were the same COLOR. Heck even when I visited my mother’s family everyone was WHITE. When my family came from Bangladesh I noticed, my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, were BROWN! My world was never the same.

Things started to make more sense after this great revelation by the 5 year old that had shattered my colorblindness. I attended a predominantly Pakistani and Arab madrasa, at a mosque housed in what used to be an antique church. At just 3 years old, I remember agonizing Saturday nights, knowing I would have to wake up for “Sunday School.” Not because I necessarily hated learning about Islam, but treatment I received was brutal.

Rewind back in history to 1971 when Bangladesh won its’ independence from Pakistan, there evidently was and is to this day a lot of bad sentiment. So much that my young peers of Pakistani and Arab descent were fully aware of the hate that their parents held towards my Bangladeshi heritage. Let alone the children, even the madrasa teachers seemed to be bitter..

I remember showing up for lessons.  I was always early. The first one sitting in the classroom; even before the teacher. My dad is a unique Bangladeshi; he is one of the few that cherish British lessons from colonial times. He believed in punctuality.

That unfortunately gave me many Sundays of alone time with my teachers, who explained that my breed belonged to sinners. Especially because my mother is a WHITE American Muslim convert.

This is also when I learned what it meant to be two-faced. Bless my parents; they were never aware of the mockery that was uttered to me from our community, at least they never admitted to me to being aware of it.

Outside the mosque there were many occasions where my family and I were removed from places of business.  When I was 6 my father had taken me to the bank to withdraw money. He explained to me that we were going to use this money to buy some couches that my mother wanted.

We went home and picked up my mother, along with my younger sister and infant brother and Made the trip to the furniture store, we were all excited because new furniture is exciting when you are a child.

My father had started his journey of success with his career as a mechanical engineer and was ready to part with the furniture of a young married couple into some nice ass antique couches for their living room. My parents had an idea of what they already wanted when we entered the store as they instantly gravitated towards a set of Victorian shaped chairs. They were the nice pieces of furniture that I knew I would get a whipping if I decided to jump all over them.

A sales representative approached my parents. There was a discussion. Then another individual came, I believe the manager. Before I knew it he yelled at us. He said, “get the hell out of here, I’m not selling you anything.”

I was not naïve to what happened. My siblings and I were proof of my parents union, a disgrace in his eyes.

Who I am, due to my ethnic make up, makes me inferior in the eyes of some people.

As I grew, so did my hue, I got a little darker, my nose got sharper, and I started to resemble my father. I am known as NON-WHITE, COLORED, BROWN, MIXED or AMBIGUOUS OTHER.