Around a large conference table at Perkins Coie in Seattle, twelve young attorneys of the Washington Leadership Institute listened attentively as a local Muslim-American lawyer spoke about media portrayal of Islam. The lawyer, Aneelah Afzali, issued a call to action, urging her audience to know Muslim people and challenge the media’s portrayal of Islam.
The Washington Leadership Institute is a joint program of the University of Washington School of Law and the Washington State Bar Association. The program is designed to develop a diverse wave of future bar leaders.
The stories Afzali told during her March 2017 presentation included one of Ted Hakey Jr., a former Marine who had been convicted of attacking a Connecticut mosque in November 2016. Fortunately no one was injured, but the act shook that community. It happened the day after the Paris terrorist attacks that left 130 dead. After his attack, Hakey had an opportunity to meet the people of the mosque he targeted. He left the mosque saying if he had taken five minutes to get to know the people who worshiped there, he never would have done what he did.
We were inspired by this story; Afzali was a phenomenal speaker. On the way home that evening, one of the fellows recalled Hakey’s story and proposed we start a community service project. The suggestion struck a chord with all the fellows.
Touched by Hakey’s change of heart and Afzali’s call to action, we decided to launch a social media campaign aimed at encouraging people to spend five minutes engaging with their local Muslim community and to spread facts and positive images of Muslims in their community. We planned to produce a series of videos, fact sheets, and articles in the hopes delivering our message far and wide. And we named it the “Five Minutes” campain, #fiveminutes.
Our first task was to build better relationships with the Muslim community. We attended several community events at local mosques, interviewed community members including an interfaith Iftar during Ramadan and Eid-Fest, celebrating the end of Ramadan. We established a Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram account, and YouTube channel through which to share our message. Our Facebook page engaged more than 25,000, and our series of videos was viewed more than 12,000 times. We even reached out to Hakey through someone from the mosque he attacked, someone he now considers a friend. Both were gracious enough to share their stories in our final video.
Along with our successes came struggles. Initially, we struggled to engage friends, colleagues, family members, and media outlets. With a zero-dollar budget and amateur technical skills, we quickly found our goals of producing videos and launching a social media campaign was ambitious. We spent numerous hours toiling over how best to approach the project and interviewing subjects and editing videos late into the night. Still, we learned an important lesson working together. Perseverance and creative outreach allowed us to expand our community and our understanding of Muslims in this country. The project demanded that we push beyond our echo chambers of social media and traditional news sources to truly engage.
You can find our Five Minute campaign videos on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and our YouTube channel . We encourage you to check out our efforts, spend five minutes engaging a new community, and support the Washington Leadership Institute.