SPEAKER 1: --begin to search for Soup & Hope speakers during the fall semester. And if you have the name of a person whose story of hope you feel might inspire us, or if you yourself might want to consider being a Soup & Hope speaker, let any one of us from the committee know that. We're always on the lookout for inspirational personal stories from our colleagues, from students, and from our friends.
What you may not know is that once a speaker has been invited and has accepted our invitation, we provide for them a mentor, who makes time-- imagine finding more time at Cornell-- to help a speaker focus on a particular anecdote or story or event, helps them hone it into a 15, 20 minute presentation, and then the mentor also offers some gracious suggestions about delivery before the big day arrives.
We are very grateful that for the last 12 years, a whole variety of folks have come forward, all of them our colleagues who have taken on this important work of mentoring. They enliven and enrich our shared experience of this Soup & Hope program. And as I said already, we're very grateful for them.
So today's servers come from a variety of places. Primarily, they're students, however, with a few helping from our committee. But the students are Hannah Zimmerman, Sarah Edwards, Jenna Robinson, and Rachel Pilgrim. And as I said, they're being assisted by some of our committee members as well. So thank you for offering your time to be servers today for us. Now, it's my pleasure to introduce to you or to invite Rachel Pilgrim to the podium to introduce today's supernova speaker.
RACHEL PILGRIM: Hi, everyone Sorry. I'm a little short, OK. Hi. My name is Rachel Pilgrim. I'm a senior English major in arts and sciences. And today, I'm going to be introducing somebody that's very important to my support system, Imani Majied. Besides being my best friend and roommate, she also is always, always, always involved in a plethora of things on campus. So I rarely get a chance to see her. And we always make sure that we sit down for dinner at least once a week.
But amongst working with Everybody Eats that she co-founded, she's also in DSP, Annabelle's Grocery, Urban Blaze-- well, she used to be in Urban Blaze me-- an Engaged Ambassador with the Office of Engagement Initiatives, social business consulting, Design and Tech Initiative, and according to her, that's all she can remember off top of her head from this morning.
So I just want to say that she's an amazing, amazing person. She's constantly looking for ways to help and encourage and enlighten people, and I always tease her, I say her favorite word is no. But that just speaks to the kind of person that she is. She's constantly looking for ways to surpass any type of boundaries or jump over any types of fences and trying to find a way to establish and break new ground. And I just can't believe that I actually get a chance to have her in my support system and met her at the time when she's constantly growing and constantly achieving.
So without further ado, I want to welcome my best friend up. Congratulations.
IMANI MAJIED: That was like really sweet. I hope she didn't over hype me. Thank you, Rachel. So first, I'm going to give some thank you's. First of all, thank you all for coming today. I really love that the space that the Soup & Hope committee have created here. I think it's really special to just come and lean into compassion and lean into understanding other members of our community. So thank you so much for being here and listening to my story.
I also want to, again, thank you Chris and the Soup & Hope committee for inviting me. Sage Chapel is one of my favorite spaces on campus. I really think it's a really beautiful energy in this space. So thank you for being here, because-- thank you for having me here. Again, thank you to Rachel, [INAUDIBLE], Jenna, and Hannah, for helping to serve and just be here to support me today, as any other day.
And lastly, thank you to my dad. My dad-- I almost didn't make it here by the way. My flight got canceled last night, and I almost didn't make it. But I made it to New Jersey and my dad drove me up this morning at 7:00 AM, so thank you for doing that, and of course always being one of my biggest supporters. I tend to get involved in a lot of random different things, and he's always there to support me, even if he doesn't know what it is I'm getting involved in. So thank you.
OK, so I can still remember a time when I was a young kid when I wasn't really aware of labels, and I wasn't really aware of trying to define myself or other people by those labels. And I actually remember specifically the first time I realized that other people might perceive me differently than I perceive myself. So one day after pre-K, I went to my best friend Anna's house, and we had the best playdate ever.
We played dolls and dress up, and we imagined that we could be anything and anyone we wanted to be and actually believed it. When I got home from that playdate, my mom sat me down and she told me that I couldn't go to Anna's house to play anymore. I was so hurt. She told me that Anna's family was Jewish, and I was black and Muslim, so Anna's family didn't want me to come over to play anymore. I was only five.
So pretty soon, I kind of started to realize that my family was also what people might consider poor. I knew that certain tasks like going to the grocery store or doing laundry were more difficult for my family, because we didn't have a car, or we had a single parent. But it took me a while to realize that getting my snacks from the liquor store, instead of getting veggie sticks from Whole Foods and King's made me seen as maybe less than in the eyes of my peers.
So there wasn't anything I could really do about those circumstances. But the one thing I felt like I did have that no one could take away from me and that set me apart from any other narrative of being a poor black kid from the South End was my family's educational background. My parents didn't have a lot to invest in us financially, but they always invested in our education. I grew up with books and religion.
I knew who Malcolm X was way before George Washington. And I was singing Islamic Sufi chants before I knew the words to "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." The narrative I was given was that I was poor, black, Muslim, but my access to educational opportunity gave me the chance to uplift my family and maybe even my own community from our socioeconomic status. So when I was accepted into Prep for Prep, a nonprofit that provides talented minority students access to some of the most elite prep schools and professional development opportunities in the nation, I felt my narrative grow stronger.
I was now on the path to attend a boarding school at a place where a lot of the wealthiest families in the nation fight to get their kids into. By my sophomore year of high school, I had access to internships at some of the most prestigious firms that college students would die for. I no longer aspired to go to college as good as my parents, but I aspired for better. And to be honest, I felt like I was living a dream for a little.
I didn't live at home with my parents full time, so I felt grown. And I was involved in so many organizations on campus that people kept telling me I was a leader. All of this made me feel like I was doing something, as if being in these circles of really rich kids meant I was going to make a difference in the world. Then one day, the simplest encounter made me question all of this.
So one day I was walking down Linux Avenue in Harlem, and I ran into a woman who I recognized to be one of my mom's friends from the mosque. I said, hey, Sister [INAUDIBLE], how are you, I'm Patina's daughter, I see you around sometimes. And she just kind of looked at me, a little suspicious. And then I guess she finally remembered who I was. She's like, oh OK, so what are you doing?
And it was a very straightforward question. But I was a little thrown off by it. I started to tell her, you know, I'm just on my way to the library to go meet my siblings. And then she interrupted me, and she said, no what are you doing? At this point, I felt very uncomfortable. I thought this was going to be just quick, hi and bye, some small talk. But this woman clearly wanted something deeper.
So then I began to tell her about the boarding school I go to in Connecticut and all my internship at the district attorney's office and how one day I'll help advocate for people's rights in underserved communities. She looked at me some more with the same unchanged face. She asked me one more time. She said, no, what are you doing? At this point, I was just shook. I didn't know what she wanted from me. And I just wanted to go on with my day.
So I just surrendered, I said, I don't know, like what do you mean? And she just explained to me very plain and simple. She said you are a child of God. And therefore you are here to serve, period. So let me ask you one more time, what are you doing? After this conversation, I felt like this woman had seen me completely naked. I felt like all the symbols of my education and my resume meant nothing, and I didn't even have an answer to her question, because as far as I was concerned, I was doing me, and I was having a great time doing it.
I loved collaborating with people, and I had a lot of opinions on how the world was messed up, but I wasn't actually doing anything about it. As I walked away from her and walked home, I put the question in the depths of my mind and just tried to forget about it. I licked my wounds a little and reassured myself that my credentials meant something, and eventually, I'd make the world a better place at some point.
It wasn't until four years later that I reconsidered the question. During my freshman year at Cornell, I became an Engaged Ambassador with the Office of Engagement Initiatives. This meant that I would be able to help students like myself get involved in communities locally and around the world and do work that actually meant something. I had two experiences prior where I had volunteered in Colombia and lived a year abroad in Spain.
So at this point, I felt like I was a global citizen. So with this in mind, I decided to do an abroad experience after my freshman summer. The experience was pitched as me going into a community to teach English, but the truth was, I actually just really wanted to travel around Europe and hang out before I had to get serious about internships in my sophomore and junior year.
So on June 5, I boarded my flight to Spain, and I wrote in my diary, I don't know what will happen, but I hope that everything works out when I get to my destination. I hope I don't run out of money. And I hope I stay safe and have an unforgettable experience. So of those three hopes, only one of them happened.
When I arrived to the camp, I was teaching English at, it became really clear to me that this experience was not what was pitched to me in interviews. I arrived with two other teachers, and at that evening, they didn't even know where we would sleep, because the dormitories weren't being finished built. So the facilities weren't that glamorous, but that wasn't even like what I was most concerned about.
What I was most concerned about was when I realized how the bosses talked to staff. It became really clear to me that they didn't care at all about the students. They really just wanted their money. And they cared even less about the teachers. I kept asking myself, like how did I get in this place, what am I doing here in this place that only cares about getting as much revenue generating campers as they can. They don't even care about their safety.
So I actually really like teaching. And despite my popularity, I was actually fired and rehired and fired again from this camp, amongst five other teachers. So that was a big hit to my ego. It was for crimes as bad as not knowing to stay an extra 30 minutes at a shift at game night. The place was absolutely madness, and I didn't feel safe, and I knew I would have to find another living situation for the summer, because I had eight weeks before my flight back to the US.
At this point, I honestly didn't know what to do. The only people I knew in Spain couldn't just host me randomly for eight weeks out of the blue. And I had an extremely tight budget, because I had spent most of my money getting to Spain. And then I was expecting this camp to cover most of my expenses over the summer. So of course, by the universe's grace, I found an apartment in Valencia that was right in my price range, had a really creepy landlord, but I would make it work.
So the worst was over but as I sat in my bed in my empty room, I was confronted with this question of what was I going to do with myself for so long? I didn't have money. I couldn't get a job because I didn't have work papers. No one cared where I interned the summer before. No one cared where I went to school. I just had to wait out the time. I was living with 30 euros a week. And when I couldn't afford toilet paper, I would just go steal it from the clubs.
For the first time in my life, I felt completely stuck. My best friends became a girl I met in Valencia, yoga, and this book called The Celestine Prophecy. In this time, I ended up reflecting a lot about energy exchanges and intentionality and learning about me how I could potentially manifest what I needed in my life by being more intentional and grounded I realized that I had to learn to let go of those parts of my ego that people kept telling me were important, so that I could actually survive in this very unpredictable situation.
While I wasn't able to manifest more money in my pocket, the universe filled my life with friends and community that I honestly couldn't have imagined making in such a short period of time. I had unbelievable experiences that I never could have planned for. I flew back to the US humbled, with less than $20 in my bank account and having an experience unlike anything else.
But one thing that summer did make me realize that even if I had stayed teaching at that camp, I wasn't actually doing anything. I prioritized the kind of experience I wanted to have over the kind of value I actually wanted to add to a community. So I figured in my next community engaged experience when I asked myself the question of what am I doing, I didn't want the answer to be serving myself.
So two years later, I decided to spend a portion of my summer, working with a small private Muslim school in the Bronx, New York to create their first college and career prep program. I felt like this is an area I could definitely help in, because of my experience in professional development and academic achievement. So I assumed my narrative would help me. Does anyone else's mom ever tell you that phrase about what happens when you assume? Yeah, you make an ass out of you and me.
Yeah, so I assumed. I was wrong. But I quickly realized that the majority of the students first of all were from majority Muslim African countries, and they were immigrants. So only a few students had actually ever heard of the SAT or were familiar with what a resume was. A lot of the staff at the school also was not familiar with the American education system. So I realized very quickly that this curriculum that I had created and this whole plan I had created for this school of how I was going to come in and help had to be completely thrown away. It was useless, because it was just not working with the environment I was actually in.
I realized that the students needed individualized support, and I needed to actually engage all of the stakeholders into creating this program. It didn't matter if I showed the students how to do the SAT if the principal didn't know how to get SAT fee waivers, or Yassin's mom didn't tell him to actually study.
So I was happy to have really relearned this lesson early on that my narrative and my experiences meant nothing if I didn't actually engage all of the stakeholders in this community. And ultimately, the community design solution was way better than anything I could have done on my own. And I was reminded that this work was not about me at all, but it was about the impacts and opportunity. I had to make impact.
So the very next summer, which I always think is funny, because I always tend to have these really grounded experiences when I'm away from Cornell bubble. Is that just me? So the very next summer, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine of just about how restaurants waste so much food and how it didn't make sense to us, because there's families like our own and students like ourselves who are struggling to eat on a regular basis.
We didn't know why it was so inefficient, and so we did a lot of more research into it to understand the current food systems that we have. This conversation actually ended up becoming the inspiration for our social enterprise that we now have called Everybody Eats. Everybody Eats, we're creating a food delivery service like Uber Eats, but one that every time you order from us, you help to provide a meal for someone else in need locally.
And if you are someone who is food insecure, you get significantly discounted meals, so that you can order food that's convenient and affordable for you. So I knew I had to approach Everybody Eats differently than I had with all of my other projects in the past. I knew that community input mattered first, and we prioritized that from the beginning. So we were doing good.
Even though, however, I understood the potential impact for this, I still kept finding myself paralyzed because of this new pressure of this new label added to my narrative of being an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is like this rebranded sexy thing that everyone thinks is cool now. People want to hear about immediate success stories. So when I started this venture, I suddenly felt so much pressure to live up to this label.
It was at the point where I literally just didn't even want to do the work for my startup, because I just felt paralyzed. So luckily, I've developed enough tools in my spiritual toolkit to realize that I really needed to get grounded before I could continue doing this work. In a perfectly timed manner, as the universe always provides, perfectly timed, I encountered a book called The Surrender Experiment, which tells a story about a man who wanted to leave everything in his life to go meditate in the woods and ended up becoming CEO of this billion dollar software company.
So what I learned from the book is not that I should expect to have a successful company because I'm spiritually grounded, but I was reminded that the work that is presented for me to do has nothing about building my narrative or building me, but it's just simply about my responsibility to serve, to be present in the experience, to surrender to whatever it is that life presents me with, even if I didn't ask for it.
So I stopped asking myself this irrelevant question of who am I or who do I want to be, and I started asking this more relevant question of what am I doing. I realized that this meant so much more than the first, because if I was doing nothing, because I was feeding my ego, then I just needed to ask that question again, what am I doing? So I still have a lot to learn, and I'm constantly relearning some of the same lessons, but I'm finding that now, at least, they're coming a little bit easier and with a little bit less dramatic situations. And the less attention I give to living up to labels and defining myself by these labels, I feel so much more free and focused and happy. So thank you so much for listening.
SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]. Thank you so very, very much. You're welcome to come and engage in a conversation with Imani if you'd like. I know some have to get back to their offices. Please join us in two weeks time when Angela Winfield will be with us, and then on the 28th for our final Soup & Hope of the season when Rashay Richardson will be our speaker. Thank you again for being here, and have a wonderful afternoon.
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Imani Majied is a social entrepreneur, Sufi practitioner, sister to four, and aspiring global citizen. In her junior year at Cornell, she and her co-founder began their social enterprise, Everybody Eats, with the vision of providing food-insecure individuals and families with affordable and convenient meals. Imani continues to work with her team to make Everybody Eats a reality and is also excited to join Deloitte after graduation to help innovate the public sector. Imani will explore how her passion for social entrepreneurship has been led by her gut instinct.
For more than a decade, dozens of Soup & Hope speakers have touched, inspired, motivated, and stirred the hearts of those who gather during the winter months at Sage Chapel. Stories come from a wide range of Cornell staff, faculty, students, alumni and community members. These stories of hope reflect diverse personal, cultural, religious, political, and philosophical beliefs and experiences. They are shared among friends and colleagues, over bowls of hot soup and bread.