Talking Turkey 2023: Kindness on the Subway

by Mohammed Naeem


Over the last few weeks, as I reflected on writing our annual Thanksgiving blog post, I struggled to find the right words and message. During years past, this post offered best practices for engaging in dialogue across the days’ festivities. And although that recipe has been loved by many, I also felt compelled to dig a little deeper this time.

Luckily, I was gifted an experience riding the subway in Queens, NY (which happens to be the most diverse borough in America and has been my home since the mid-1990s). A gentleman walked onto the train and attempted to communicate with passengers in sign language. I, along with other passengers, struggled to understand what he needed or what he was trying to convey.

As he made his way toward the center of the car, two passengers began communicating with him precisely as he needed, and what happened next was one of the most beautiful interactions I have ever encountered. The gentleman’s smile filled the subway car, and his eyes softened as he sat with the passengers to share space and time.

While I don’t know what they spoke about, I could feel his humanity being fully respected and seen. Here were complete strangers from potentially different lots of life, but they shared the same means of communicating, which was more than enough to enjoy each other’s company. It profoundly touched me, as well as many of the other passengers on the train. There were many smiles and a few tears.

As you gather today with friends, family, and neighbors—consider how you can step into that space generously, with curiosity as an anchor, and in ways that appreciate the richness of one another’s diversity. We might disagree across our politics, come from different parts of the country, or differ in other ways, but the sharing of space and the joy of togetherness is a privilege that you shouldn’t take for granted. It is a gift that I was reminded of on that subway.

And as the saying goes, we might not be able to change the tone and tenor of our democracy overnight, but we can change its direction. Through small interactions, through acts of kindness, and by listening and taking the time to connect with each other—this is how we build bridges. It starts with each of us doing our part, especially today. From all of us at the American Immigration Council, we wish you a safe, healthy, and joyful holiday.

This post originally appeared on Immigration Impact Reprinted with permission.


About The Author


Mohammed Naeem is the Senior Manager for Strategy and Partnerships at the Center for Inclusion and Belonging, guiding the direction, facilitation, and build of its programmatic portfolios. The Center houses the signature culture and narrative change strategies of the American Immigration Council. Previously, Mohammed worked at More in Common, where he led initiatives and partnerships with a wide variety of civil society groups, philanthropy, and media, in addition to launching landmark research projects and associated communication strategies. He has led movement-building projects across racial and economic justice, immigration, and bridge-building between diverse groups. Mohammed has a background in medical and public health research and is an alumna of Stony Brook University.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.