In July, we brought you the story of 33-year-old Yasmine Mustafa and ROAR For Good, the wearable technology company she founded with partner Anthony Gold that will sell fashionable jewelry—necklace, charm or key fob—that women can wear and activate when under attack, emitting an alarm and a light and instantly alerting contacts that they’re in trouble.
Yesterday, ROAR debuted Athena, its initial product line, and launched its first crowdfunding campaign. The goal is to raise $40,000 in preorders, on top of the roughly $250,000 Mustafa and Gold have raised so far from sources that include Benjamin Franklin Technology Partners, the Untours Foundation and DreamIt Ventures, the local incubator. Once profitable, ROAR will donate to non-profits that teach respect, concept and healthy relationships to young people.
As of Tuesday night, Mustafa’s campaign had already raised more than $20,000.
Mustafa’s cheerleading for female empowerment comes straight out of her own story. She came to the States in 1990, on the eve of the first Gulf War. She was 8 years old and with her family and neighbors in a Kuwaiti bomb shelter when officials from the American embassy burst in, searching for her little brother, who had been born in Philadelphia during a family visit. That made him a U.S. citizen, and the Americans were there to transport the family to the States. Once here, Mustafa spoke no English and learned all about work ethic at the family’s Royersford 7-11, stocking shelves and manning the cash register. Marrying an embrace of transcendent technologies with an immigrant’s drive, Mustafa turned from a shy, insecure foreigner into a leader, business owner and guru for self-empowerment.
On September 21, the 25th anniversary of her emigration to the United States, she posted this remembrance on her personal blog, myasmine.com:
I’m 8 years old and we’re in the midst of the Persian Gulf War. Between my parents fixated on the television watching the news, rushing to the bomb shelter, and bartering with neighbors, we don’t go outside much. That is until our upstairs neighbors pack up to leave. We had grown up with them. We would play house with their two little girls who were our age. They were the first in our building to leave the country, to go somewhere safer…where, I don’t remember. We hugged tightly and wished each other well. I was upset they were leaving and ran back upstairs early.
That same day, I heard explosions and instead of going to the basement I peered out our apartment window. Gray planes were flying over the main road and one of them was dropping bombs. My Mom rushed over to cover my eyes but it was too late. I saw one of them go through a moving car. I can still picture the explosion vividly in my mind.
Today marks the 25th year anniversary of my family migrating to Philadelphia. With the refugee crisis in Syria, I’m filled with gratitude at the lucky cards we were dealt. Of thousands of families, two men from the American embassy came to intentionally find and collect us – all because my little brother had just been born there two months prior.
I follow the news about the refugees’ journey with newfound interest. Actively reading media publications or watching news channels isn’t in my repertoire. But this is different. I picture my family all those years ago and I can’t help but think about what would have happened…
…if my Dad didn’t go to Philadelphia two months before.
…if my Mom hadn’t joined him.
…if my Mom hadn’t been six months pregnant.
…if my grandmother had not agreed to take care of the 5 of us while they were gone.
…if they would not have stayed as long as they did.
My heart broke when I saw pictures of the 3 year old child who drowned and washed up on the beach. When I read his father’s personal story of losing his whole family. When I watched the video of a journalist tripping refugees trying to cross the Hungarian border for safety. When I see other videos of police beating them back after their long journey.
And my heart warmed when I saw the #refugeeswelcome hashtag, shots of European citizens cheering as the migrants disembark from the trains. Of humanitarians passing out food. Of countries opening up their borders.
Then there are the comments.
“They don’t belong here.”
“They’re going to take all our jobs.”
“They brought it upon themselves.”
“We should mind our own business.”
“Why are we letting terrorists into our country?”
“Round them up and send them back.”
I know it’s fear and ignorance that drives those perspectives. At the same time, I want to bring them together and explain the randomness of the birth lottery. The pure luck of the draw of being born in a particular country. And how it could have been them.
We don’t choose our parents, the culture we’re born into, the color of our skin, the religion that’s bestowed upon us, our socioeconomic class, the order in which we’re born, the education we receive…and they all have a direct impact on the opportunities and disadvantages we’ll have in life. Furthermore, we have zero influence on these when we’re most vulnerable.
I gave a TEDx Philly talk on the topic. I was apprehensive about it because I don’t like sharing stories of my past. The stare of disbelief is something I can do without. But the awareness afterwards – that’s important and it makes it worthwhile. The videos are taking a while to come out – and part of me is glad, but another part wishes it was ready so that I can share it anytime I hear or read those remarks of indifference. In the meantime, I gave a similar presentation – this one focused on empathy – at Creative Mornings Philadelphia a couple of months ago. The goal of the talk was to fill people with compassion and understanding for others who are not like them or went through different experiences. If you like it, please share it with someone who could use it.
I haven’t been back to the Middle East since we were whisked away. It’s been on my bucket list since I became a citizen 3 years ago. How am I going to celebrate the anniversary today? Besides booking a trip, I’m not sure yet.
Update: An hour after posting this, I received an acceptance email for an entrepreneurship fellowship I applied for a few months ago. It’s in Jordan. <insert goosebumps>
Header Photo: ROAR IndieGoGo campaign page.