Yassmin Abdel-Magied is not your average 25-year-old professional. She has already established herself as a successful mechanical engineer, author, youth advocate, political commentator (her exclusive TEDx video titled What does my headscarf mean to you? has garnered 1,948,952 views). Plus, she almost became an official Formula One race car driver due to her love for fast cars but decided to put that career on hold and focus on her Youth Without Borders foundation that she founded when she was only sixteen.
On our initial meeting in a small patisserie in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, Yassmin comes off as super humble. The vibrant colors in Yassmin’s Hijab or Kimar (head scarf worn by Muslim women) make the beautiful features in her face stand out even more. In addition to all this, Yassmin’s huge smile brightens up the already sun-drenched patisserie. After finally getting our coffee and finding two available seats, Yassmin and I formally introduce ourselves to one other. After speaking briefly about my Fencing career which Yassmin seems to be interested in, I begin to ask her a whole slew of questions. I’m the most impressed by Yassmin’s modesty. Although she has achieved a lot more in life than most people her age, her journey is one of endurance, patience and strength that started all the way back in her native land of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.
Yassmin’s family, originally from Khartoum, migrated to Australia when Yassmin was just a young girl. When Yassmin and her family arrived to Australia in the early 90’s, they were one of only two Sudanese families in the region and had to acclimate to all the strange new ways of the Aussies. However, it was Yassmin’s mother, an architect herself, who always instilled in Yassmin to never forget where she came from. These words of wisdom would carry Yassmin through the more difficult times in her life.
The first question that comes to mind after engaging in conversation with Yassmin who seems so joyful and upbeat is — why mechanical engineering as a career? Yassmin obviously has the talents to be anything she wants but chose working on an oil rig as her full-time job (gotta keep your day job). Working on the oil rigs sometimes leaves Yassmin far out in the middle of the vast ocean for months at a time where she is often the only woman around several men. Once she explains to me that she comes from a family of engineers and architects and that the challenge of working on the oil rigs is what excites her, it starts to make more sense.
So now, the next question that comes to my mind is what does someone do to bring them joy and break the monotony of being away from family and friends for months at a time? “I love listening to music while I’m out on the rigs!” Yassmin replies boisterously. This makes perfect sense because if I know anything, it’s that music brings you joy no matter where you are in the world. When I ask her what particular artists she enjoys listening to, she shocks me when she answers that she adores popular 80’s singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman. The late 80’s was the time that Chapman was prominent in music and Yassmin had not even been born yet. I was definitely born and can recall this time clearly because I remember playing my mother’s Tracy Chapman cassette tape over and over again until the brown tape popped. However, Yassmin Abdel-Magied wasn’t even a thought when Tracy Chapman was on top of the charts, so this just goes to show how ahead of her time she is.
Yassmin also mentions Drake (of course), Janelle Monae, and a few other popular artists that she enjoys listening to, to keep her up while out on the oil rigs. She then asks me who some of my favorite artists are and I reply with the usual, Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z and Nas. I also tell her that I enjoy listening to all types of Trap music and that more recently I’ve been listening to Nigerian-American artist, Jidenna. After promising to exchange our favorite music playlists online at a later time, Yassmin wishes me well in all my future endeavors and rushes off to her next appointment. Still, the short time that we got to meet and chat about our lives over coffee in that small patisserie on a warm summer day in Brooklyn brought memories that will last a lifetime.
UPDATE: On June 5th, 2020 Yassmin Abdel-Magied wrote a feature article for TIME magazine on systemic racism and its origins titled, Why the Protests in the U.S. Are an Awakening for Non-Black People Around the World.