Tech Now + Beyond

Media outlets, put your money where your mouth is

The Tempest needed to happen five years ago. Because five years ago, I was a teenager spending countless hours Googling websites and publications where a young Pakistani girl could read and submit stories about her family, her faith, her politics, her poetics.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t find any.

Five years ago, we needed a place where young college students picking their major could read interviews with women changing the way we use the Internet and building brilliant small businesses and creating characters that look like us. We needed a place where young women raising children of color could talk about how to raise biracial children and the spice level of the food they would cook for their families – just as much as we needed a space for young women of color to confess that they didn’t want to get married or have children.

But it didn’t exist yet. I watched as media companies with similar mission statements – diversity! women! new perspectives! – emerged. But they were funded and launched by white men, or run by offices full of white women, or they refused to pay their writers, or they tokenized their writers of color. Or all of the above.

A little over a year ago, I found Coming of Faith on Twitter. It was a radical, colorful media site for millennial Muslim American women, who wrote pieces about being the hijabi dancing at a club or facing discrimination at the airport or trying to learn how to reproduce their mother’s chai recipe. I fell in love. There was no one else, in print or on TV or on the web, who was doing anything like this. After writing a poem or two casually for the site and going through a Skype interview to become a section editor, the site’s co-founder Najira held me back after one of my first editorial team meetings.

So, we’ve been thinking a lot about the site and what kind of submissions and comments we get, and a lot of people are basically saying that we’ve created a new kind of platform for Muslim American women,” I remember her telling me over video chat. “And we’re thinking about expanding this so we can offer the same thing to all women of color and underrepresented women. So if you’re multiracial or Latina or Muslim or gay or non-binary or all of the above, we want to include your voice. Because no one else is.”

“Sounds good,” I responded. “Do we know when we’re relaunching?”

“We’re planning for the next couple months,” Najira said. “But we haven’t come up with a new name yet.”

When we held a full staff meeting a few weeks later, we decided on a name: The Tempest, to represent our tendency to rock the boat, turn the tide and storm past tradition. And sure, a couple months turned into a full year, but that only gave us more time to build connections with other niche publications and writers of color looking for publishing platforms. But we’re finally here, and I think we’re on the cusp of something special.

There’s no magic formula, though.

Like any media venture, for this to survive and succeed, it will take two things: we produce, you consume. We need your help for both. If you’re a writer, pitch us or join us as a regular contributor. (I like to think I’m a pretty good editor, and the worst that can happen is I’ll respond with some constructive criticism.) Apply for our fellowships (so that we sit on Skype for hours on end writing questions for your upcoming interview and send one another strings of emojis on Slack way past our bedtime). Or support us financially (so we can pay our contributors more and help underrepresented voices be heard).

And if you’d like to see us thrive, read our stories and share them with your network. Because our voices matter, and you deserve to see your experience represented in the media. So let’s start the storm.

Meet The Tempest Love Life Stories

When I joined The Tempest, I found that my voice and art really did matter

I stumbled on The Tempest through Facebook, and that seems to be the common story with much of my friends, too.

It passed along by word of mouth that someone out there was showcasing stories by Muslim women, and the excitement was infectious. I followed along with the articles and laughed at all the “controversy” and debates happening in the comments.

Regardless of whether or not people were on the same page about the articles, Muslim women were at the center of the conversation and it was so refreshing. There was a sense of agency to it that I craved for myself.

I had just started my first year in college at the time when Laila Alawa reached out to me in a Facebook chat. She approached me with the opportunity to do comics for what was then Coming of Faith, putting me at the front lines of their humor section.

I was floored with this chance.

meet the artist
[Image Description: Illustration of Sara Alfageeh by Sara herself.] via
It was my first real job as an artist, even when I couldn’t see myself as one. It was all very intimidating and exciting at the same time. I’m a pretty confident person, but I was in a weird place with my art. For something I could pour hours and hours into in one sitting, I was pretty insecure about my work.

When The Tempest says they want to make a platform for minority women, they mean it.

I was ridiculously lucky to work combining my great loves in life: coming up with bad jokes, snarky feminist commentary, and art. That opportunity gave me confidence in my work. People like Laila and my endlessly patient editor Najira know that there is no room for self-deprecating attitudes in an industry that will downplay the efforts of women like me anyway, and the last thing I should do is contribute to that.

Plus, when it’s your own comic that is being shared 150,000 times on Tumblr, not to mention tens of thousands of shares on Twitter/Pinterest/Facebook/Instagram? That helps your self-confidence a bit, too.

This all occurred around the same time that I dropped my plans to be a psychology major and dove headfirst into illustration. I didn’t do it just because I got an inflated ego after a couple of viral posts, but because The Tempest helped show me that the audience is out there, and I just needed to speak up a little louder.

Now my hope is that other women can come to know this too.

Love Life Stories Advice

Unleashing the tempest within me

I remember my first notable interaction with Coming of Faith, now aptly called The Tempest. There was a Twitter conversation with the hashtag #breakthesilence geared at Muslim women who were speaking out against cultural practices disguised as religion. It was a conversation I was eager to read and partake in; it was an opportunity to interact with women who held the same views as me, even though we were miles apart.

It was the beginning of being a part of the Muslim women community I had longed for. In my early twenties, I was on a path to self discovery – finding out what I was passionate about and what I regarded as important to me. For the first time I was looking at the women in my faith community and wanting to know more about them, from them. It was about meaningful connections and being bound by shared experiences.

[bctt tweet=”I was looking at the women in my faith community and wanting to know more about them, from them. “]

After that, I kept coming back to read more articles, which were pushing back against stereotypical and limited views of Muslim women wherever they lived. As a Muslim woman living in the West, diasporic and millennial, the complexities of my identity or others similar to mine was not something I had read or came across often enough.  At The Tempest, these narratives were relatable, yet offered different perspectives on life experiences as a woman. I branched out and began reading articles in life, love, and culture all of which appealed to me and made me want to learn more about other aspects of my identity. As I read more about other women, I learned more about myself.

[bctt tweet=”As I read more about other women, I learned more about myself.”]

Fast-forward a few years, a few open Coming of Faith (now The Tempest) tabs and a quarter century life crisis. Through some really difficult times, the authentic narratives I read of these women helped me. It was reassuring to know that I wasn’t alone, and I began the process of unlearning what society, community, and culture expected of me. I started thinking, what did I expect from myself? I’d slowly initiated the process of taking charge of my life.

Much like Laila, Najira, and Shayan’s stories of wanting a platform and then creating it for not just themselves, but other diverse women, I was also searching for an outlet where the conversations were unfiltered, necessary, and weren’t just a one-off feature post but ongoing conversations. These were the stories that needed to be told by us. I would leap at any media portrayal of women who shared my faith hoping that justice would be done to her character, that it could represent me, but that was hardly ever the case.

Having seen rounds of Fellowships go by, I decided to submit my application for Spring 2016. After a nervous interview with Laila I was ecstatic when I got my email accepting me as a Fashion Fellow. There were tears. It felt surreal and still does.

When you’re given the opportunity to be a part of something that’s meant to empower, uplift, and rip apart that box society has put you in, you bring it. Finally I was able to be a part of this amazing community which had helped me so much- seriously, you women will never know. Now I was able to share my narrative, which as a Caribbean Muslim Millennial woman, was yet to be given a voice. Words aren’t enough to describe the incredible feeling knowing that you crafted something that someone else can relate to and benefit from. The reactions of OMG, tagging friends, sharing, and internalizing these thoughts because of the levels of realness that articles here contain, is worth all of it.  It’s a lot of work, but when you love what you do, that’s okay.

When I was 14, apart from wanting to be a pediatrician, I wanted to tell stories from the front lines, stories about underrepresented people – women, from conflict areas whose voices weren’t heard, were ignored or drowned out. Years later I’m doing exactly that, except the underrepresented voices are my own and those around me.

When I learnt of the new name The Tempest, it was the best description of how I felt. I’m no longer willing to let things which are unacceptable slide. By coming together as diverse millennial women, we can make an impact. We have to because no one else is going to do it for us. Nor can they.

[bctt tweet=”We’re storming in. We’re storming ahead. The clouds have rolled in.”]

Love Life Stories

A dispatch from outside my comfort zone

“Outspoken” is the last word you’d use to describe me. I’m shy, I tend to keep to myself, and my idea of a bold move is parting my hair on the right side instead of the left. So how did I end up writing for The Tempest, a website that prides itself on pushing the envelope and shaking things up?

I spent the summer of 2014 in Washington, D.C., for an internship before starting my graduate program in the fall. During that summer I got to meet a bunch of other young Muslims in the area, including the unstoppable force that is Laila Alawa. I heard her talk about her website, Coming of Faith, now The Tempest, and liked its Facebook page.

Long after I left D.C., I remained an avid consumer of the content that Coming of Faith posted. It was very refreshing to see how the articles would give voice to opinions that no one else seemed to be sharing, but that I definitely related to. I appreciated how the website offered a unique opportunity for young women from marginalized populations to speak their minds. Sometimes I would even imagine submitting a piece of my own, but could never bring myself to make that leap.

This past fall I had done a lot of editing for my school’s policy blog and my friends’ grad school application essays. When I saw that Coming of Faith was looking for editorial fellows, I figured I could put my editing skills to good use for a cause that I really cared deeply about. I applied with the intent to remain behind the scenes without drawing attention to myself, as usual.

Then Laila told me that the fellowship would primarily involve me writing my own content. This gave me some serious pause. I wanted to be involved with this awesome website, but was I ready for that level of vulnerability? Could I bare my soul to the world like the writers of the articles I enjoyed? I made a split-second decision to just go ahead and pursue the fellowship despite my reluctance.

[bctt tweet=”Could I bare my soul to the world like the writers of the articles I enjoyed?”]

I still hoped my writing might fly under the radar, but I would have no such luck. Instead, during the first week my piece “My parents didn’t speak Urdu with me” blew up. As the number of pageviews climbed and readers started leaving comments, I was as terrified as I was excited. But going viral turned out not to be so perilous after all. I was moved to see how my personal experience had resonated with so many other people around the world. A bunch of my friends even personally contacted me to discuss how the article had affected them. The occasional negative reaction didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would, and the rest of the team assured me that this was how you knew you had made it.

That experience gave me the boost of confidence I needed and it continues to grow with each subsequent piece that I’ve written. In the end, that’s what The Tempest is all about: empowering the voices at the margins, and providing a space for the stories and perspectives that people keep up on a shelf in their minds and are hesitant to share.

[bctt tweet=”Empowering the voices at the margins is what The Tempest is all about. “]

It’s been amazing to work with the group of strong, talented, unique young women that make up The Tempest team. Though I had my reservations in the beginning, I don’t regret becoming a part of it one bit. Frequently throughout my academic career, my teachers would remark, “You may not say much, but you have a lot to say.” I’ve always struggled to believe that. But through getting involved with The Tempest, I’ve begun to recognize that my voice, too, is worth hearing.

[bctt tweet=”Through The Tempest, I’ve begun to recognize that my voice, too, is worth hearing.”]

Love Life Stories

Becoming a powerful writer was a struggle for me

This year’s been a year of firsts. It’s my first year of college, my first taste of independence, and the first time any writing of mine has ever been published.

My first interaction with The Tempest started as a notification in my inbox. A mutual contact forwarded me the fellowship application on the the premise that I might be interested. I clicked the link. Scrolled around. Read a couple of the articles. Read the fellowship descriptions. Read the “About us” page.

I was sold in less than ten minutes. I immediately replied to the email. “I LOVE THIS! Going to send in an application today.”

And so I did.

I was torn at first — which position should I apply for? Each one offered a fresh, edgy spin on media making, and I wanted to do all the things. I ultimately decided to apply for an Editorial Fellowship. I love to write, and honestly, Editorial made the most sense. This was an opportunity of a lifetime – why wouldn’t I want my voice featured on a platform as awesome as this one?

That was back in September of 2015. Now, six months and dozens of articles later, I’ve developed my voice as a writer and finally found my groove.

Writing for The Tempest is easy. It’s easy because I’m writing from the heart. It’s a blessing to have the chance to write about what’s important to me, in an environment that simultaneously understands and supports my voice.

As an Arab-American female and student, it’s almost too easy for me to get overlooked in the media world. I’m young, I’m hyphenated, and I’m “foreign.” I’m constantly toeing the line between my two cultures, struggling to be “Arab enough” and trying to figure out what the heck an “American” really is. As disheartening as it is, I know there are people out there who want to silence me, and ensure I’m as marginalized as possible.

I won’t let them do that to me.

The power to tell someone’s story, amplify his or her voice, and subsequently uplift an audience is an incredible feat. And this is exactly what The Tempest is doing right now. 

Ensuring that underrepresented voices are strengthened and amplified in the media is a goal I completely stand behind. The world consistently underestimates and brushes off voices like mine, and this is exactly why The Tempest exists – we have something to say, and everyone needs to hear it. 

Confession: I struggle to be a person others would consider as “outgoing.” By nature, I’m pretty quiet – I like to listen and observe my surroundings. My teachers in high school spent all four years trying to get me to open up. Every semester, their comments went something like this: “She’s a great student, but I really want to see her speak up more in class. She has so much to share!” The old me would rather watch a storm from afar (albeit with admiration) and report her findings on it later.

[bctt tweet=”The old me would rather watch the storm from afar. Not anymore. “]

I’ve now learned that while it’s okay to stand at the periphery sometimes, you really have to just close your eyes and jump right in.

There have been several times when I’ve doubted my ability to produce interesting content. I’ve hesitated when I think of whether or not people will see me as “cool” or “intriguing.” There are people out there who want me to feel this way, and I can’t let them win. I remind myself that this is a platform for everyone, and that my voice is important. That, in itself, is reason enough to swallow all my doubts and push forward.

Publishing dozens of articles this year has definitely made me a more confident writer. Through the various writing I’ve done this year, I’ve been able to fine-tune my voice, and delve deeper into my interests. And through it all, I’ve learned to weather through some of my struggles.

I can say that now, more than ever, I’m ready to field any storm that comes my way. 

“Words are…our most inexhaustible source of magic,” as best said by J.K. Rowling (yes! I’m a Potterhead). This is probably my favorite quote ever, because it’s so undeniably true. I should never, and will never, underestimate the power of my story.

[bctt tweet=”I can say that now, more than ever, I’m ready to field any storm that comes my way. “]

I went from being someone who watches storms from afar, to being part of the movement that’s starting one. I’m so glad to be a part of a team of empowered, fierce women. We’re shaking things up, changing the status quo, and supporting one another in more ways than one.

Love Life Stories

We deserve to have our voices heard, too

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I remember being about six or seven and starting my very first chapter book, one of the Baby-sitter’s Club Little Sister series. I was so proud of myself for finishing a book that didn’t have any pictures in it, and was so inspired that I wrote my own chapter book. It was about a girl named Lisa who, basically, was a fictional version of me, and did things like go to the dentist. It was about seven pages long, and I cut each page down so that it would be the size of my Little Sister book, so it was not exactly a masterpiece of children’s lit. Nevertheless, it remains to this day the only “novel” that I’ve ever actually finished.

As a grew older, the stories I started (and never completed; sometimes I would literally write one page before scrapping the idea in its entirety) were all inspired by what I was reading at the time – I wrote fantasy novels during my Discworld/Harry Potter phase, angsty I-hate-life pieces during my angsty I-hate-life YA phase, dystopian heroine stories during my dystopian angsty YA phase – you get the idea. (I went through a futuristic space travel sci-fi phase, but did not write anything reflecting that due to my abysmal grasp of physics. To this day, I don’t understand how an apple falling on your head proves the existence of gravity. I also went through a communist revolutionary phase, but that’s an article for another time.)

Generally though, I was still figuring out my writing style, so a lot of what I wrote was, plot-wise, a mirror of the books I was inspired by. It wasn’t until I started college – majoring in journalism – that I began to get a firmer grasp on why I wanted to write. I wanted to be able to reexamine old narratives, to challenge problematic ideas, to say, hey, what I think is important too, and here’s why. I became active on my campus and in my department, starting an online newspaper with my friends with the goal of challenging the official narrative of the university administration. Looking back on that experience, it was maybe not entirely successful from that angle. But it was empowering for me, because for the first time I felt like I was in control of my narrative, I had a voice, and people were engaging with me and taking me seriously.

[bctt tweet=”It wasn’t until I started college that I began to get a firmer grasp on why I wanted to write.”]

In the last couple of years, I’ve realized that that was what I had been looking for my whole life. Every time I tried to recreate a story I loved, what I was really doing was trying to insert myself in the story and engage with it, trying to give myself a voice in the narrative that I’d loved. It sounds really narcissistic written down like this, and maybe it is. But as a brown Muslim girl growing up in the United States in the 1990s and the early 2000s, I had really no one in pop culture that I could relate to, something I’ve written about here. I was desperate to see myself in the stories I so enjoyed, to see a version of myself that I recognized, a version of my family and my culture that was familiar and honest. I wanted to be a part of the narrative. I wanted to belong.

[bctt tweet=”This is what I’ve been looking for my whole life. “]

That, today, is why I write. I believe more than anything that you have to write your own stories, and that you have to create a space for yourself to belong and to be heard. That’s why I write for The Tempest. This is a platform dedicated to raising the voices of those who have often been ignored or overlooked in mainstream media, who, even when they’re give the chance to express themselves, their stories are often drowned or delegitimized by those who would presume to speak for them. This is a place where you can be yourself with all that entails. You can be crazy wild or you can be, like me, super vanilla, and feel right at home here. So come read with us, talk to us, engage with us – heck, even write for us! That’s what The Tempest is all about.

Press Love Life Stories

Why I really started The Tempest

I’ve been asked the question a time too many: what made you decide to start The Tempest? It’s an answer that still takes me back for a brief second, causes me to flip back through my Rolodex of memories, fitting the right one into place.  

There’s always a pause before I answer – but the funny thing is, my decision to start the company came without a second thought – it just was, and it began. The inception came with a question: why weren’t we hearing about the world and all of its intricacies from the vibrant, authentic and varied women from underrepresented backgrounds? Why is it so hard to push beyond what we’re expected to talk about, to what we truly want to discuss?

Figuring out what led me to that decision, though, always takes me back to being that awkward, slightly pudgy, verbose self that I was at fourteen years old. Always on the fringe of the social circle, I spent much of my childhood moving around the Northeast and struggling to find friends who accepted me for what I was: homeschooled, feminist, independent, and always coming up with the next idea to change the world.

I remember reading about the once-elegant and internationally renowned World Fairs that took place all over the world, bringing in the latest in progress and innovation to the fair-goers. So I decided to start my own in my family’s garage. I had a fire for figuring out the gaps in the market, which led to my starting a multi-location operation at my local faith centers, selling craft supplies to the bored but voracious consumers while the adults attended spiritual lectures.  

It was with that kind of “what if?” attitude that I approached every initiative I undertook. There were no limits, as long as I believed in the potential impact and had the fire underneath me.

Yet there was a constant current running throughout: where would I find those who accepted me for who I was, quirks and all? As a teenager, I vowed never to allow those who felt out of place to sit alone once I was older.  Too often growing up, I found my heart speeding up entering a center where I didn’t know if I would find someone who I could call a friend, a feeling I learned later in life simply to embrace.

But it wasn’t a feeling I ever wished upon anyone else. That lack of community, people who understood you, empathized with where you were coming from – if not with where you were going – all of those factors influenced the decisions I made in life. As a visible minority, an American Muslim woman who had chosen to cover from ten years old as a bet with my mom, I found that there were layers to my identity and life experience that took years to begin unpacking. On top of that were the boxes those around me put me in: boxes that were difficult to break out of, but boxes that I simply refused to operate within.

It all led back to the question: why did I begin a media company that had now morphed into an international movement for diverse millennial women to be exactly who they wanted to be – themselves? Crazy as it sounds, I did it because it needed to be done. The Tempest – formerly known as Coming of Faith – began out of a lifetime of personal experiences, experiences that I saw reflected too often in those around me, time and time again. It was a battle getting the first submission – five weeks and a whole lot of pushing – but the responses from our audience were almost immediate. I knew, no matter what struggle lay ahead of us, that we’d hit upon the pot of gold.

Instead of speaking for diverse millennial women, we were giving them the chance – finally – to tell their own stories through writing, videos, audio and music, and the results have been inspiring – in growth and in reach. Rather than creating a set narrative and fitting different people into what we deemed “the right box,” we were giving them the ability to own their experiences, voices, and stories.

Now, I wake up every morning full of fire for something greater.  With more than 300 writers in more than fifteen countries, the articles flowing out of our space are fresh, engaging and truly unconventional. Our content isn’t found anywhere else. Why?

Simple: we’ve tapped into a core of unmatched diversity, made up of a team of passionate, dedicated staff and writers telling the most impactful stories, creating incredibly authentic conversations, and representing the wide range of voices that make up today’s world. Headed by my co-founder and myself, the company brings in millions monthly, powered by a shoe-string budget and a national team dedicated to the vision of something bigger and better for millennials and women.

Rather than paying lip service to minorities, millennials, and women like many networks and media properties tend to do, The Tempest talks the talk – and walks the walk. We mean business.

I think a lot about whether my younger self would befriend the person I am now. I believe she’d give me a chance.

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Here’s why I started The Tempest