The Elephant in the Newsroom


Sharing the #LetNoorShine journey at the @america center in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The earliest I can remember wanting to pursue journalism is in my own living room at 8 years old. I had a routine: Every weekday after school, around 4 p.m., I would plop on the couch and watch Oprah with my mother. As a kid I never shared the same talents as my friends. Sure, I played sports, but I never scored goals. I loved painting pictures but never won blue ribbons. But there was one thing I knew I was really good at: asking questions. At one point or another, every significant person in my life has told me I ask great questions. Heck, I even remember an 87-year-old man in my grandmother's mosaic class thanking me for getting all the seniors in the room to share their stories and learn about one another. Asking questions became my passion.

Before I continue, let's address the elephant in the newsroom: a Muslim woman with a headscarf. Yes, I am a news reporter. And yes, I keep this scarf on my head while reporting (though not always this particular scarf). It's not very typical, I know. Actually, it's not typical at all. There has yet to be a Muslim woman who wears the hijab anchoring American news in any commercial market. Needless to say I wanted (and still want) to fill the gap.

Of course, when assessing my own journey in hindsight, I see that there were a series of events that built on each other: I started college at 16; became the youngest commencement speaker; landed my first internship, with CBS, at 18; graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.A. in broadcast journalism and international-development conflict management; and became a local TV news reporter in the Maryland/D.C. area at 20.

During my undergrad days, everything catapulted. Among the many journalists I shadowed was a local D.C. ABC reporter, Jummy Olabanji. One day I sat in the anchor chair to get an idea of what the future could taste like. While I was sitting in the little world I was creating, Jummy snapped a quick photo. As a firm believer in the law of attraction, I wanted to share it with my family and friends on Facebook and let them know I truly appreciate all the support I've received over the years in working toward becoming a broadcast journalist. A couple of months later the photo went viral following a tremendous flow of global support that was pouring in through social media.

With the help of my family, I decided to turn the overwhelming support into a campaign: #LetNoorShine. ("Noor" means "light" in Arabic.) The purpose of this movement is to build a global collective aimed at embracing our individual passions. It became a worldwide inspiration community. People began sharing their dreams on an international platform; they embraced each other's goals and shared opinions on current events.

With this success comes the obvious and expected criticism. Around the same time we started #LetNoorShine, I began motivational speaking, which included traveling globally and sharing my journey. Though I embrace these experiences as a chance to empower others, I'm often met with a tinge of disapproval. Several people claim I don't deserve any of this attention, that I haven't accomplished enough and am way too young. I have to constantly reassure myself that the reason I deserve to share this journey is that we often forget that who we become in our pursuit is more important than reaching the goal or destination itself. So staying in a constant state of gratitude and persistence is how I continue to manage to thrive.

I've trained myself through ritual: Every day, with one of my closest friends, I list three things I am grateful for. We have weekly inspiration nights dedicated to uplifting one another's spirits. I sleep, and I pray.

I believe our multicultural society often fails to embrace our creative birthright. I grew up seeing most immigrant families keen on having their children pursue medicine or law. There is nothing wrong with that, so long as the child is truly passionate about the field. When that's not the case, we end up encouraging a kind of standardization of souls. It is a disservice when we abandon the talent that allows us to be the best version of ourselves.

Since founding #LetNoorShine, we've grown to incorporate discussion posts, an Oprah-inspired #JustSayHello Ustream, mentoring, good-deed opportunities, and inspiration giveaways in which everyone is prompted to write about their aspirations and a winner is chosen to receive a basketful of things that have encouraged me along the way.

Success, in this sense, is about sharing our process of self-actualization. It is built on the belief that each of us is a success if, between the hours of waking and sleep, we do only what satisfies our spirits.

I know that I am not guaranteed the accomplishment of my goals, but even still I know that my success is not contingent on a single destination. I know that the journey is in my pursuit, in the atomic acts of bravery it requires from me and others who have chosen to share their journeys. I see it when I hear others talk about who and what they love. I feel it when I share my story and others' stories that I aspire to tell. I know the beginning always starts with asking the right questions and, as we say in Arabic, Insha'Allah -- God willing -- the questions will always be there.