Andy Shallal

“Facts can be right but it doesn’t show the truth”
“Question. Study. Don’t let them brainwash you.”

By A.T..

Background Information
Busboys and Poets is a community gathering place in Washington D.C. with a restaurant, a bookstore, a lounge, and a theater. It was founded in 2005 by Andy Shallal, an Iraqi-American artist, activist, and restaurateur who is best known for his opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The first of the four Busboys and Poets was established 2 blocks away from U Street, which once played a central role in Washington DC’s African American community. Its name refers to Langston Hughes, an American poet who also worked as a busboy. Busboys and Poets has been described as a haven for writers, thinkers and performers from America’s progressive social and political movements.

Our Experience
After browsing through the bookstore of the first built Busboys and Poets, we were guided to a room with a stage on which various events such as Open Mic and discussions are held occasionally.  In that room, we met the founder of the restaurant, Andy Shallal, who gave us a very passionate speech about his personal beliefs, especially about the American government or military and his thoughts about the young people nowadays. After his hour and a half powerful speech, our group had a dessert break in the same room and ate sweets like mini cherry/apple pie, white chocolate bread pudding, chocolate layer cake, classic cheesecake, and key lime pie.

The Big Ideas
Andy first began his talk by sharing his motives of starting the restaurant as a social entrepreneur; he wanted to create “a space for art, culture and politics to intentionally collide” which can “inspire social change and begin to transform our community and the world” as Busboys and Poets’ Tribal Statement mentions. He noted the fact that every culture has a custom of eating together, and that creating a space where any people are able to eat food together was the solution to making a community in the disconnected society of today.

Then, he told us that we write history by what we leave out. That was then that he mentioned that “facts can be right but it doesn’t show the truth.” Therefore he said that history is not just about facts like dates, numbers, and events, but it was more of the interpretations of the people and the impact it had on people. Along with that he explained to us about the art on the long side wall of the room. In the collage, there were pictures of people who had an impact on people’s history such as people who joined movements and things that made a difference in people’s lives.

Next, Andy gave us a vigorous speech which mainly consisted of his criticism against the American politics and the ignorant attitude of the recent youths. He shared his strong opinions, as an Iraqi-American, about U.S. government attacking Iraq. Andy also mentioned the importance of speaking out.  He said that fascism starts when citizens stop speaking out, and that in order to protect ourselves from the state trying to gain full control over the citizens, people had to fight for it. There, he hinted at the current state of youths being too passive and their lack of concern toward politics. These conversations led us to one of the morals of the visit: “Question. Study. Don’t let them brainwash you.”

As well as being overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and the energy contained in the speech, we were also able to learn 2 very important lessons from him. The first one, “facts can be right but it doesn’t show the truth,” taught us that lists of facts don’t mean the truth and that it is important to know and understand the people and social backgrounds. The second one, “Question. Study. Don’t let them brainwash you,” encouraged us as members of the next generation to be more concerned about what is going on around us in the world, because ignorance means loss of our own freedom.