Masood Akhtar

My day job is being an entrepreneur (I’m the president and founder of CleanTech Partners, Inc. and Biorenewable Deployment Consortium, Inc.) and an anti-hate activist. I started a movement, We Are Many-United Against Hate.

I’m originally from India and came to this country over 35 years ago because of my love for the United States.

When I was eight years old, my father asked me, “When you graduate, where will you go?”

I told him, “I want to go to the US.”

When he asked me why, I told him because I’d talked to friends and read a lot about the US and it was the best country on the face of the Earth. You had the freedom to practice your religion—I’m Muslim, which is a minority in India. And you could make your dreams happen. No one in my family had ever been outside India for higher education. But my dad supported my dream.

When I graduated from school, I still had my dream, but I had no idea how I could possibly get to the US. Then, I saw a newspaper article that the government of India was going to sponsor 50 people to study abroad. Consider that India has 1.4 billion people—and Muslims are in the minority (14.5 %). The odds were not in my favor, but I took the newspaper to my dad and he encouraged me to go for it.

I sent in my resume—there were no computers, no Internet, it just went through the regular mail. And after a month I received a letter in the mail that out of 60,000 applications the committee had selected 200 people to interview and I was one of them.

When I got to interview, it was unbelievable—there were 200 of us waiting in line to be interviewed by 18 people. I was number nine in the line and the first eight people went in and came out in five minutes. That wasn’t good! But I went in and they talked to me for 45 minutes.

A few months later, there was a big article about the winners in the national newspaper. I was one of them!

I studied in Columbus, Ohio and as the day approached for me to graduate my dad called me. Keep in mind, in those days an international phone call from India was a big deal—it took a couple days to make it happen.

He reminded me I had a wonderful job offer in India with my credentials but wanted to know what my plan was. I told him I had three things I wanted to accomplish in my life.

First, that I wanted to give something back to the US.  This is because after spending two years here, I had discovered that everything I thought was true when I was eight years old, turned out to be true  and I fell in love with this country.

Second, that I wanted to pay all the money back to the government of India—and give something more. This is because the Government of India paid for my entire education in India and US.

Third, I wanted to make sure that kids from low- and medium-income families could get a higher education. Because my father was an English teacher in a college, I developed passion for education. To me higher education is the best investment.

My dad listened to my three things and said without any hesitation, “Masood, you should stay in the US because you won’t be able to make those things happen in India.” And that was the turning point in my life. If my dad were alive today, he’d be very happy as he’d be able to see I’ve accomplished all three.

Now, fast forward to 2001 and 9-11.

As you can imagine, that was a challenging time for the Muslim community. Suddenly, we were all seen as terrorists. During that time, I, along with my community members and leaders began to work very hard to go out to churches, synagogues, and schools and educate and engage people, so they’d understand Islam is a religion of peace, and Muslims are just like you. 

Then, in 2015 as the presidential election approached, then- candidate Trump began to talk about banning Muslims, entering into mosques, profiling Muslims, saying Islam hates us, etc. I was suddenly spending more than 90% of my time doing media interviews. I felt so bad—I’d spent the last 20 years defending and explaining my religion and here we were.

One day in 2016, after the election, I got a phone call from a local TV station. Trump had just started talking about starting a Muslim registry. My first thought was, “That was what Hitler did in Germany with the Jews.” It was the worst day of my life, but I had no choice. I had to talk to the media again.

I had no idea what I was going to say, and I was very emotional. As I was talking, an idea popped into my head and I announced I was going to start a movement, an anti-hate registry (now called We Are Many-United Against Hate). I think I shocked the host—I certainly shocked myself!

I had no clue what would happen, but I was bombarded with people who wanted to be part of our group.

I knew it was critical to be strategic—that’s my business background. We decided to focus on two major areas: education and non-partisan policy. We must be bipartisan—hate is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue, it’s a human issue.

I’ve seen in my 20 years of working in this area, that people react out of hate, fear, misunderstanding and the environment those things create. When you sit down, engage and explain, things change.

We work hard to share stories—our group has many powerful examples of love and forgiveness being stronger than hate. At present we’re especially interested in bringing our stories to rural areas and also to students.

We currently have student-run chapters of our organization at McFarland High School, Deerfield High School, Dodgeville High School and UW-Stevens Point. People tend to talk about politics as a blue wave or a red wave: I call it a youth wave.

When I talk to students, I tell them these are the basics:

  • Be proactive in your community
  • Be strategic.
  • Be nonpartisan.
  • Act. Silence is no longer an option.

We’re seeing interest in our group from around the world—Canada, India and Germany. And we’ve had great support from local media. They have become part of our village and are critical to our efforts.

I have traveled to many, many countries and we don’t always appreciate the freedoms we have here—of speech, religion, pursuing your dreams.

I love this country and I want to make sure it remains united. Diversity is our strength. Unity is our power. And Hope is our US Constitution that provides checks and balances.

I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that if people can be taught to hate, they can easily be taught to love.

My most memorable caffeine was during a dinner with a couple in Wausau. I was going to be there for business, and a couple I’d never met asked to have dinner with me. Over the course of the meal, they told me they’d heard I was going to get an award from the FBI Director Christopher Wray and they wanted to come to Washington D.C. and be there to celebrate with me and my family. They said, it was such an honor for our state— you being the only one selected from Wisconsin.

I remember thinking, “Here are two white people, who may have very limited interactions with people of color, and perhaps have never met a Muslim person, and they want to honor my efforts?”

I will never forget that coffee conversation and I’ll keep telling that story until the day I die. Because that is the America I believe in, for which I gave up my Indian citizenship 25 years ago

My current caffeine of choice is British blend tea.  

My favorite place for caffeine is anywhere I can connect.

The person I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with is anyone who voted for Trump in the 2020 election.

It’s alarming to me, after all the ways the administration created division, that he still has so many supporters. I’d like to reach out to as many people as possible and try to connect.

I get a lot of hate letters. My garage has been painted. But I don’t have to react negatively. People act that way because of the environment of hate, fear and confusion that’s been created.

I’ll be very aggressive in reaching out to build inclusive communities throughout US—and it’s going to take a lot of caffeine to make that happen!

World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine:  I only have one goal: Replace hate with love. That’s the end of the story.