A Great Day for Knoxville: Congratulations, Yassin

Yassin's Falafel House, 706 Walnut Street, Knoxville, January 2017
CNN Interview with Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey and Yassin Terou, Yassin’s Falafel House, 706 Walnut Street, Knoxville, January 2017

I’d never eaten a falafel before Yassin Terou opened Yassin’s Falafel House in 2014. I went with a friend soon after it opened and fell in love. At first I fell in love with the food, then I, like so many others, fell in love with the man and what he means to his community. And we’re lucky to have him.

I’ve been very fortunate to share some special moments with Yassin. We shared Thanksgiving Dinner with a large group of friends and family. He was the first person I talked to the morning after our last presidential election. At least I tried to talk. Even that morning he never wavered. He believes love will always win. Every. Time.

I was pleased to be there a few weeks later when he was honored by Square founder and Twitter owner Jack Dorsey. An eight-minute film about his immigrant experience was shown and CNN interviewed Mr. Dorsey and Yassin in the shop. The room was filled with friends and supporters and I noted at the time, the love in the room was palpable.

Yassin’s Falafel House, 706 Walnut Street, Knoxville, June 2014

Yesterday morning brought yet another pinnacle moment in Yassin’s journey, when against all odds, his shop was named “Nicest Place in America.” I’d seen the campaign and admittedly had not really gotten involved. I mean it’s sponsored by Readers’ Digest and who really ever wins their contests? Nobody I know. Until now.

What a great way to start a day! Yassin’s shop was honored with the clip below on Good Morning America and all of the country got to meet this special man who continually deflected the praise heaped upon him by pointing out how the award is for this country, for Tennessee and for Knoxville. He also said none of it would be possible without his wife. In other words, he was simply Yassin being Yassin.

Please take the time, if you have already done so, and watch the entire video. It’s fun, it’s uplifting and it’s a great way to start your weekend. It’s even worth a second or third watch. Make everyone in your office watch. Share it on Facebook. Send it to your anti-immigrant relatives. This is America at its best.

It’s also Knoxville at its best. There is no amount of money that could buy the kind of publicity for this city that this man just delivered. Knoxville looks beautiful in the video. Our mayor is articulate and turns the stereotype of a southern mayor on his head. With all that and Yassin constantly saying how the community has embraced him, we may need to brace for an onslaught of falafel craving tourists.

Yassin’s Falafel House, 706 Walnut Street, Knoxville, January 2017

So, congratulations, my friend. You deserve every honor. And you are now the face of Knoxville, Tennessee to a large segment of the American population who have scarcely paid any attention to us before now. I’m proud to have you be the face of my city.

In the same spirit of inclusion, I must say that my day was book-ended with acceptance and care of another sort, as I attended “I Sing Out: National Coming Out Day Concert,” at Church Street United Methodist Church, hosted by the Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus. A variety of musicians performed, including the Chorus and Christina Horn. Interspersed with the music were various members of the local LGBTQ community telling their stories.

Christina Horn, I Sing Out, Church Street United Methodist Church, Knoxville, October 2018
Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus, I Sing Out, Church Street United Methodist Church, Knoxville, October 2018

It was impossible not to be moved by the compelling stories of struggle; with not wanting to be gay, with wanting to make it go away and the fear involved in coming out. Several mentions of suicidal thoughts or attempts mingled with stories of supportive families and friends. Many gave credit to the Gay Men’s Chorus for saving their lives by surrounding them with support when they most needed it.

I’ve written before about red letter days for Knoxville and with that start and this ending, this felt like one. Knoxville, like every other place, is not perfect. Far from it. We have our deficits, but at the same time, these are reminders that we are getting somethings right. Shine on Knoxville. Let’s always reach for our better angels.

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