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See Ali on May 7

Join The Philadelphia Citizen the evening of May 7, 2024 for the launch of MSNBC anchor and chief correspondent and Citizen Board Member Ali Velshi’s new book, Small Acts of Courage: A Legacy of Endurance and the Fight for Democracy

In a 125 year family history that is a treatise on citizenship and civic engagement, Velshi demonstrates his commitment to social justice as a living, breathing experience — telling the stories of his progenitors who made a lasting commitment to fight for change, in the face of adversity, and when success seemed impossible.

Velshi’s heartfelt exploration of how we can breathe new life into the principles of pluralistic democracy offers a roadmap for the battles we are fighting today. At its center is an urgent call to action: for progress to be possible, we must all do whatever we can — no matter how small — to make a difference.

Velshi will speak with The Philadelphia Citizen about the lessons explored in Small Acts of Courage, which will be for sale and available for signing at the event. Complimentary drinks and light bites will be available for guests to enjoy.

$5 for entry. Free for Philadelphia Citizen and Fitler Club members. For code information, please contact [email protected].

Fitler Club Ballroom, 1 S. 24th Street. May 7, 2024. Cocktail Hour: 5-6pm. Program: 6-7pm. Book signing: 7-7:30pm.


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To this story in CitizenCast

Welcome to the spoken edition of this excerpt:

And go here for more audio articles, interviews and events from CitizenCast

Excerpt: “You’re In This Fight”

How a peaceful march, a misguided cop and a rubber bullet turned Canadian-born (by way of Kenya, South Africa and India) Ali Velshi into a true American. An excerpt from Small Acts of Courage, the MSNBC anchor and Citizen board member’s new memoir, launching May 7, in Philly

Excerpt: “You’re In This Fight”

How a peaceful march, a misguided cop and a rubber bullet turned Canadian-born (by way of Kenya, South Africa and India) Ali Velshi into a true American. An excerpt from Small Acts of Courage, the MSNBC anchor and Citizen board member’s new memoir, launching May 7, in Philly

In the last week of May 2020, I went on my phone, pulled up a video and watched as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, for nine-and-a-half agonizing minutes, kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck, even as the man choked and gasped and kept saying, “I can’t breathe.” My reaction was the same as every other human being who saw the footage, which was a mix of horror, revulsion, and outrage.

By that afternoon, the streets of Minneapolis had begun to erupt in protests and the police had brought out the tear gas and the riot gear. Once that happened, I knew I was on my way to Minnesota.

Up to that point in my career as a broadcaster, I’d been to several events with the Committee to Protect Journalists, black-tie events at the Waldorf Astoria. The honorees were almost always reporters who had to walk around their own countries in flak jackets and helmets because they were being targeted by their own governments. It had never occurred to me before that night that I would need to don a bulletproof vest in my own country. Yet here I was in Minneapolis, doing exactly that. I wore the vest under my shirt and carried a gas mask at the ready.

I got on camera more or less immediately and stayed there, broadcasting live, for the next several days. By Thursday night, three days after Floyd had been killed, Minnesota’s governor had activated the National Guard. Derek Chauvin would not be arrested and charged with third-degree murder for another day. President Trump had gone on Twitter and called the protesters “thugs.” And on this night, Minneapolis’s Third Precinct — the precinct at which the cops who’d arrested Floyd were based — had been overrun. The protesters had Molotov cocktails and rocks, the police had bean bag shot guns and flash-bangs and rubber bullets and tear gas, and there was a live battle that went on for hours. There were several active fires in the neighborhood, including one in the liquor store behind me.

It was quite a thing to see — and that was the problem. In television news, the camera distorts as much as it reveals, and the spectacle of what was going on at the police station was giving a skewed view of everything that was happening around it, which was far less devastating than it appeared to be onscreen. Minneapolis as a whole was quiet. Outside of a small group of violent agitators, most of the people out that night were engaging in the act of being citizens in a democracy, voicing their protests over an egregious crime committed by the police of their city, one that had been clearly and unambiguously captured on video.

One day I’ll find out who shot me, and when I do, I’ll go and I’ll thank them, because what they did was open my eyes. They woke me up. They changed my entire outlook on democracy.  — Ali Velshi

In the days that followed, I walked with those protesters everywhere they went. Then, that Saturday evening, because the Third Precinct had been closed off, everyone had gathered around the barricades outside the Fifth Precinct, a little over two miles away. I was in the middle of the crowd, reporting on it. There was a curfew in effect for 8pm that night, and right before the appointed hour, announcements started coming over loudspeakers from the police: “There is a curfew in effect. Anybody who is gathered here after that will be in violation of the curfew.” Everyone’s phones then started to ping as texts popped up saying the same thing:


The city of Minneapolis is under a strict curfew, beginning at 8pm. Go home or to a safe location. Avoid the outdoors. The curfew is enforceable by law.

At that point, the entire crowd, which was thousands of people, sat down en masse. It felt very Gandhian, an immediate manifestation of nonviolent resistance.

By 9pm, the curfew had been in effect for an hour, but people weren’t going home. At a certain point, the whole crowd stood up again and started moving. There were chants rippling through the crowd, and the people next to me were talking and waving their Bernie Sanders signs. It felt light. Unlike a couple of nights earlier, there were no violent overtones to it. It was just a walk.

We walked for about 25, 30 minutes, and then we reached an intersection. Suddenly, people started making noise. We looked up and saw lights and heard sirens, and then out of nowhere the police and National Guard raced into the intersection ahead of us, splitting the crowd in half. Then, completely unprovoked, they started firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd. It was remarkable. The police weren’t waiting for something violent to happen. They just started firing.

Because most people didn’t have gas masks, the crowd split. Half the people ran south, and the other half ran north. Having been mostly in the back of the crowd, I was now closest to the police. As a result, we now had live footage of the cops and National Guard shooting into the crowd. Then they started firing in our direction. 

At that point, most of the crowd was gone. It should have been easy for the authorities to identify that we were media. My cameraman Miguel Toran is an exceptionally tall guy. He’s about six-foot-three, and he carries a big camera on his shoulder. The people who were firing at us were, theoretically, using scopes, so it seems almost impossible that they wouldn’t have known we were journalists, which means they likely were targeting us because we were journalists.

As we backed up, walking slowly away from the authorities, I was live on TV the whole time. The guy next to me got shot by something, and moments after I reported the fact that he’d been shot, I got shot. I took the bullet in my left leg, right in my shin. I stayed standing but hobbled and limped to the side of the street, in shock at what had happened, trying to keep my composure and report on the story even as I became a part of the story. We walked to the next intersection, only to find that the police had converged there as well. Having just been shot at, we all put up our hands and said, “We’re media!” Somebody from the police side yelled back, “We don’t care!” Then they started shooting at us. Luckily, this time they didn’t hit anyone, but the sense of impunity with which they were firing was astonishing. We weren’t doing anything except quietly backing away from them, but they shot at us all the same.

That was the moment when I finally became a citizen in the deepest sense of the word, because that was the day I understood how invested in this place I truly need to be. One day I’ll find out who shot me, and when I do, I’ll go and I’ll thank them, because what they did was open my eyes. They woke me up. They changed my entire outlook on democracy. That rubber bullet told me, “You’re in this fight. You’re not watching it anymore. You’re in it, whether you want to be or not.”

From Small Acts of Courage: A Legacy of Endurance and the Fight for Democracy by Ali Velshi. Copyright © 2024 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group. Celebrate the book launch and get your signed copy Tuesday, May 7, 2024, 5:30-7:30pm, at Fitler Club Ballroom, 1 S. 24th Street


Photo (left) by Sabina Louise Pierce from Ali Velshi event at The Philadelphia Citizen. Photo (right), Velshi's new book, Small Acts of Courage.

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