Masood Akhtar, Founder/President, We Are Many United Against Hate Movement
Why did I start this Movement?
In 2016, I received a phone call from a local Madison TV station saying that President Donald Trump wanted to start a “Muslim Registry.” The representative asked, “What is your reaction to that, being an activist and advisor to the Madison Muslim community? Can you come on my show and talk about it?” I accepted the invitation and on the show I responded to his question by saying, “I came from India thirty-five years ago and gave up my Indian citizenship over twenty-five years ago based on what America offered. Singling out a minority based on religion is un-American, unconstitutional, and will divide the country.” But I said I liked the idea of starting a registry that would actually bring people together, regardless of their religion, color, or ethnicity or even political affiliation. So on the show, I announced a Movement that I called the “Anti-Hate Registry” (now called We Are Many United Against Hate).
When the program was aired, the response from the community was overwhelming. My inbox was completely full. People were ready to sign up to join this Movement and commit to providing volunteer help. A 30-second PSA about the Movement produced by NBC 15 can be watched here, https://youtu.be/ou_ypOOP66U.
First, I created a diverse advisory board of outstanding leaders representing various communities, including youth, and a management team and board of directors. Then, we came up with a mission statement: “We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of common people—urban and rural, spiritual and secular—seeking equal protection for all, united against hate, bigotry, and racism.”
What makes our Movement unique and special is our commitment to community engagement, including to one-on-one counselling and mentoring, to help people work through prejudices and see our common humanity. It’s about overpowering hate—one act of common decency at a time.
We do outreach and intervention in communities to promote understanding, healing, reconciliation, and redemption. Instead of simply condemning the latest eruptions of hate-inspired violence, we dig down to the root causes of division, fear, and hate. And we advocate for policies creating greater economic security, promoting religious tolerance, celebrating differences, and honoring America’s heritage of openness to foreigners.
A powerful example of education
We promote real, personal life stories which resonate with our community, particularly our youth. Our Advisory Board includes a former White Supremacist (Arno Michaelis, who started the largest hate group that killed 6 people at a Sikh Temple shooting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 2012), and a son significantly affected by hate (Pardeep Kaleka, whose father was killed in this shooting). We bring both of them to various high schools and colleges and community forums as part of our educational program and ask them to share their powerful story. They make presentations about how they overcame differences, found common ground, forged a close family friendship, and now work together to promote peace worldwide. After organizing events like this (Phase 1), we began to work very closely with students, teachers, administrators, and community members to understand the root causes of hate/bigotry/racism in each of their communities (root causes will vary from one community to another depending upon the diversity of that particular community), identify best practices to deal with them, and make resources available to schools/colleges so that they can incorporate them into their curriculum. In other words, we are very action-oriented.
Positive impact on youth (a few testimonials)
Baraboo High School: “Thank you for making Baraboo a part of your worlds. I can feel the healing beginning with our students and community. Your engagement with us will make an impact. I can’t begin to express my gratitude to have your presence and message as a part of our program.”
McFarland High School: “Remarkable people influencing remarkable young students. My heart is full! This is just the beginning of continued great work together. I have so much respect for you and for your organization.”
Mount Horeb High School: “The students got so much from the assembly and talked all day about the positive messages they took away. I heard multiple times that you all were the best speakers they’ve ever heard. It wouldn’t have happened without you. Even parents are emailing about what a wonderful opportunity our school provided to our community.”
UW-Oshkosh: “I have heard wonderful feedback today from both students and instructors. We very much enjoyed the workshop and evening presentation and learned a lot. I was inspired yesterday and challenged to continue to be brave in standing up to hate in all forms and encouraging my students to do the same.”
What is Next? (not an inclusive list)
- Based on this positive impact on communities and various recognitions, students are expressing interest in starting chapters of our Movement in their schools and communities. Other states and countries have also expressed the same level of interest in starting these chapters. We are in the process of establishing these chapters.
- We will continue empowering youth so that they can become an ambassador for this Movement. Currently two high school students and one college student are serving on our Advisory Board. Our intent is to create a separate Advocacy or Ambassador Board of two students from each high school and college and establish a network of these students so that they can start working together, share their best practices, and take the leadership role in organizing educational events in their communities with full support from our leadership team.
- We will continue public education about the following: 1) Diversity is our strength and not a weakness. We need to realize that what makes America exceptional and has helped build our great nation is our policy of accepting all people, no matter their origin, color, or religion or even political affiliation, 2) America promotes unity and not uniformity. People’s diverse opinions are respected, 3) There is a difference between freedom speech and hate speech. The former builds the democracy, while the latter destroys it, 4) We need to work as hard as we can to keep this country united so that it can continue to remain a role model for other countries to follow, 5) We can only keep America safe when we all speak with one voice against those who want to divide or even destroy this country, and 6) We strongly believe that if people can be taught to hate, then we can easily teach them how to love.
- With support from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, we are in the process of populating resources and best practices to combating hate in our classrooms. This material will be posted on our website soon. We have established an excellent partnership with various high schools (urban and rural), MATC, and UW campuses and will continue working with them.
- Economic insecurity is becoming a breeding ground for hate and a recruiting tool for hate groups. To address this issue, we have also started “Empowering Students for Success” (a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization) to provide interest-free loans and mentors to students from low- and medium-income families to get higher education. We are in the process of raising funds.
- White Supremacy is becoming an American ISIS. The FBI has increased the level of threat from domestic violent extremists to the same level as foreign terrorists. We will continue educating the public about this rising threat and encourage them to join us in our effort to make sure that White Supremacist groups are added to the list of terrorist organizations and prosecuted the same way as we currently prosecute foreign terrorists. Canada did this recently. We will reach out to our elected officials of both parties to accomplish this mission.
Local, State, and National Recognition of our Movement
Certificate of Appreciation by Sergeant, Janesville Police Department; Lieutenant, Kenosha Police Department; and Director of Emergency Management, UW-Madison Police Department, to recognize with deep gratitude the contributions made to the Wisconsin Command College Re-Trainer.
Certificate of Appreciation by the Southern Poverty Law Center in recognition for important contribution to the ongoing fight against hatred and intolerance in America.
Certificate of Achievement from Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers that states “all Wisconsinites should be inspired by Masood’s work and strive to unite together regardless of differences and seek to build a state and a country that is united against hate, bigotry, and racism.”
Prestigious national FBI’s 2018 Director’s Community Leadership Award (DCLA) at the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., from FBI Director Christopher Wray.
2019 Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award by the Rotary Club of Madison.
Please learn more about our Movement at https://www.united-against-hate.org and contact me at [email protected] to discuss how we can work together to build an inclusive community and a stronger, prosperous America, free of violence and extremism. Thank you and God bless America.
Editor’s note: Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Kaleka were scheduled to give the keynote address, and Masood Akhtar and Mike McCabe of United Against Hate were scheduled to present a workshop, at the annual WIPCS student-faculty conference in April 2020. Unfortunately, the conference was cancelled due to COVID-19.