"We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For"
I had the opportunity to speak to Kareem Manuel of We. Society Apparel a couple weeks back. He’s selling a powerful message of unity using t-shirts to promote the idea that now, more than ever, we need to link arms, join forces, and come together if we are to stand against all that is broken in our world. His message is love your neighbor, and his method is by any means possible. He’s rejecting despair and choosing hope, and is actively asking what he can do for his neighbors and the global community, with the tools available to him, from a place of love and conviction. It’s powerful, timely, and contagious.
At the end of Kareem’s story, you’ll find a couple of ways you can get connected to the We Society and of course, a print you can download and hang up at home to keep this story top of mind.
In case you’re new here, hello + welcome! If you want to understand more about who we are and what we’re about, this is a great place to start.
T H E N E E D
“Honestly, last year’s presidential campaign is what really woke me up in a new way to the need we’re trying to meet, which in short is empowering people, all people, to believe that they are a part of the solution to this present darkness. We’re in a bad situation when good men -- meaning mankind, not just males -- sit by and do nothing. It’s been a hard year. Terrible, senseless things have happened, and I think that many of us feel exhausted by all of it. I saw too many people that I love express a lack of hope, feeling like they had no ability, power, or control to do anything that might be helpful, loving, or encouraging.
I started to notice how this was affecting me; I was in disbelief and I was angry and upset. I was praying and asking God, “hey, when are you gonna come do something about this?” And he said, “what are you talking about? You’re right there!” And I was like, “oh, you’re waiting on me!” And when that happened, I was just convinced it didn’t matter what happened, what I lost, or how many mistakes I made, I made the commitment that every single day until I felt like this could no longer work or I die, I was going to get up and fight to move forward, to do anything within my control that’s helpful, loving, or encouraging. There’s this quote that says, “we are the ones we have been waiting for”, and I realized, I was who I was waiting for. I don’t know everything, I don’t have all the tools required to restore hope to an entire community, but if I work with people and I’m open to learning from them, then people are going to help and together we can build hope. Then we are the ones."
T H E A C T I O N
"It was January 3rd when I launched We. Apparel.
I was not sitting down to start a company, at all. The reason we made it a company was because I felt like if I just shared the idea of “we”, like it or not, capitalism runs us. I knew the idea all by itself would not take as well with people. I knew we needed to create something tangible, because when people can invest in it and feel proud, there’s a deeper connection.
I was talking to my wife and one of our close friends in our basement one day, about how we were going to come up with a concept that could work to sell the idea of “We.” We were just talking and at one point I said something like, “it’s has to be we, period.” Meaning, the problems we have, the change we can effect, it’s bigger than all of us. It’s not about me, it’s not about you, it’s not about black or white, poor or rich, male or female, it’s about everybody together, and if it’s not about that, then it doesn’t make sense. That was when we first came up with the idea for the shirt.
So that’s why we started selling the shirt, and that’s been going well. In 2018 we’ll be dropping our first full line, more things like hats and shirts, because we want to be able to put out healthy positive inspiring products in the world, and then apply the profits to areas where we see the greatest need. I’m just trying to be a good neighbor. There are so many things I want to do. I want to be able to help build hospitals in Uganda. I want to build schools in India. I also want to help my neighbor, who watches all the kids on the street, to help her go through the process of becoming an official daycare. And it has to be all of us doing that. I, by myself, can’t do these things alone, we all have to rally in order to overcome evil with good."
S T E A D Y P E R S E R V E R A N C E
"I believe with all my heart that me working hard to unite and love other people is the best use of my time. And because I believe that, every day I’m going to get up and I’m going to do that one thing. Some days I’m going to win, some days I’m going to feel like I’ve lost, but if I learn from those losses, and apply those principles to tomorrow, then I’m better for it. There are days I get so depressed, or so discouraged, like, “this is stupid, everyone thinks I’m crazy, what am I even doing??!” but then I start to go over all of the wonderful things that have already happened. I go back remind myself because sometimes I forget the good that’s come of this. There are always going to be highs and the lows, and when the lows are really low I make a practice of going over the highs; reminding myself what it felt like to launch, when we made our first sale, what it was like when my seven-year-old son took a picture of me wearing our first hoodie, which became the first picture we ever posted on Instagram.
One of the things we do as a brand is that when someone buys a shirt, we send an email saying thanks and we use that opportunity to ask people to share with us why they bought it, and maybe for a picture of them wearing it. Every day, I’ve got pictures and messages in my inbox from people sharing what the shirt means to them, conversations they've been able to have about it, how they've been inspired to be a uniting force in their own communities, and that obviously will keep you going when you feel like quitting.
If the President of the United States can get up and say half the things he says and then do it again the next day, then I don’t have the right to keep quiet. People who change the world -- for good or for evil -- are the ones who just keep moving forward. Those leaders have something in them that says I’m going to continue to move in the same direction, and I just decided to do that, even though that’s not my natural disposition. Every day I get up and try to move closer to my goal. I'm trying to give what I can to the world, and some days are easier than others."
E N C O U R A G E M E N T
"I think there is great wisdom in being calculated, to assess what you already have. Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in David + Goliath, about using what you have -- your abilities, size, strength -- as a tool to advance your agenda.
So gather the information, asses yourself, your strengths and weakness, assess who is around you and who you're connected to. Figure out what you're trying to build according to what you have to offer. But ultimately, in my opinion, the movement happens and the lessons come once you jump. You have to go ready, fire, aim...and then you fire again and again. Because no one else can tell you what your path is going to look like. Whatever path somebody else took to make it to wherever they got, that was theirs. You can try to do the exact same thing as someone else, but it still isn’t going to work the exact same way.
I've learned so much from everything I’ve tried over the years -- I started my first business back when I was seventeen, and I’m thirty-one now. Don’t be afraid to try. Be wise but don’t let fear paralyze you, you have to start moving at some point...otherwise you’re always just gonna sit there wondering, wondering, wondering, wondering, never doing anything and that doesn't help anybody. It doesn't even help you learn what not to do or how to get better, so sometimes you have to just go."
D E E P E R A C T I O N