It was an improbable item on my 50 Things list:
3. Have a coffee date with Ali Velshi – wishful thinking.
I was inspired by a podcast guest who shared with me her story about 50 things she wanted to do when she turned 50. And that inspired me to come up with my own 50 list of fun things I wanted to accomplish by the end of this year: learn to play scrabble, ride a bike, and meet Ali Velshi, the renowned news journalist and anchor at MSNBC.
I posted this in my 50 Things blog post. And next thing I know, I had tons of people saying that they could connect me with Ali, or knew someone who knew someone else, who knew Ali. An enterprising journalist from Vancouver, Zahra Premji (no relation), sent my post to Ali, who wrote to me the same day, with this message.
“A pleasure to meet you, virtually…Anyway, I understand I’m on a bucket list of yours, which is amazing because I don’t think I’m on anyone else’s bucket list! So, I propose to help you to cross at least one thing off your list, let’s plan a zoom coffee! Tell me what your schedule looks like and we will put something on the calendar!”
After I picked myself up off the floor, I responded to his note. Nagib watched in amusement as he saw me completely star-struck, “like a schoolgirl”, he said. Ali gave me 3 dates, with potential times for us to connect via zoom. I was agonizing about whether to wear pink or red lipstick when, just before our 5:30 pm appointment, I get this message from Ali. “I just lost power for a second time this week…If I don’t get it back I’ll need to postpone our call to tomorrow but for now let’s hope it comes back!” I was crushed. I thought, he is going to back out on me. But a few minutes later, “5:30 it is! Power is back.” Ecstatic.
Ali Velshi hosts a weekend news program show, Velshi, on MSNBC. We talked about the process of what it takes to host a show. As I had expected, it takes a village to put a show together. There are multiple producers, typically one for each lead story, and designated “bookers” to book guests for the show. I learnt about the planning process to determine what stories would be covered on a given week; and how this is often disrupted if there is late-breaking news. Ali also occasionally guests hosts on other shows, including Rachel Maddow, All in with Chris Hayes and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. I asked him what it is like to show up and host someone else’s show, given that each show has its own personality. His response was that he trusts the team of the show he is doing and strives to do his best. His twitter followers say that he is the most hard-working anchor, and that is not surprising given that he has actually hosted two shows on one day, and on one occasion, 3 shows on one day! His twitter followers also applaud him for speaking truth to power and this has become his brand. I love the metaphors he uses to advance his argument; like “crossing the rubicon” and “threading the needle.”
We talked about Trump and how more than 70 million people – about a third of the eligible voters in America – voted for him. Ali Velshi sees this first-hand when he travels across the US to talk to people to get the pulse of the nation. When he shows them the data and the science, the typical reaction he gets from Trump supporters is that the information must be a hoax or it’s fake news. His response is to remember and engage with Rumi’s quote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.” He sees his role as connecting with people, understanding their perspective, engaging in dialogue without judgement and finding common ground, outside of politics. His values – born from his faith – guide his life’s work: tolerance, pluralism, knowledge, compassion and service.
Speaking with Ali Velshi is witnessing an individual who loves every aspect of his role – making sense of data he feels privileged to have access to, curating and making it understandable for his audience, interviewing experts, speaking the truth, reporting from the field.
The one aspect he does not enjoy currently is travelling with a security detail given Trumps verbal and twitter attack on him. This cramps his style when trying to meet people to gain perspective, or when covering events like Katrina or Black Lives Matter in the field. He is adamant that he needs to be with people, to feel what they are feeling, so that he can report with authenticity. Which is probably why he resonates with this quote from President Theodore Roosevelt,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”from “The Man in the Arena”, Theodore Roosevelt, April 23, 1910.
Ali Velshi puts himself in the arena by choice.
Behind the journalist is a Canadian boy who loves poutine, who enjoys the occasional movie (a movie he watched over the holidays was Just Mercy, which he found relevant in today’s context). A flying enthusiast who aspires to get a pilot’s licence. A man who counts Ruth Bader Ginsberg as one of his role models, not just for her work on the U.S. Supreme Court, but especially for how she got there and what she represented.
His prediction is that we will be talking about 2020 for many years to come. “And when someone asks us what we did in 2020, we had better not say, “nothing”. He is using this time to support others and to do his part to make the world a little bit better. I left our conversation with a strong sense of his accessibility and generosity of spirit. He is the real deal.
Oh, and item 17 on my 50 Things list: Learn to play scrabble…..
I thrashed Nagib 357-299! That’s almost as bad a trashing as Joe Biden laid on Donald Trump!