Taleisin Namkai Meche was stabbed to death in Portland, Oregon after stepping in to stop the verbal harassment of two women of color
On 26 May 2017, our friend Taliesin Namkai Meche, 23, was stabbed to death on a commuter train in Portland, Oregon. Taliesin had intervened to stop the harassment of two young women of color, one of whom was described as “visibly Muslim”. A few moments later, he gave up his life to protect them.
We flew to Portland for Taliesin’s memorial service in a state of shock. Reunited under these circumstances, the two of us grappled with how to honor his sacrifice.
Much has been said about the idea of Medicare-for-all in the past few weeks as a record number of progressive Democrats jockey for the 2020 nomination. Universal healthcare is a noble aim. Until we get there, it’s important to recognize how the current gaps in our health system are being plugged. Muslim Americans are doing more than their fair share by offering free medical care to nearly 50,000 uninsured patients of all backgrounds each year.
As filmmakers, we decided to collaborate on a short film that would bring attention to this unsung service and present a positive, nuanced representation of Muslim Americans at a time of rampant Islamophobia.
Unconditional Care spotlights the Muslim-run free clinic movement through the voices of volunteers and patients at the Muslim American Social Services Clinic (MASS) in Matt’s hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.
In 2010, the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida was bombed in a hate crime. Six months later, members of the center, led by Faisal Sayed and Dr Mohammad Ilyas, founded the clinic that would grow into MASS and opened its doors to any person who is uninsured and earns less than 200 per cent of the federal poverty level. Today, MASS is partially funded by a Baptist hospital system and staffed by a diverse group of volunteer doctors, nurses, and students. It serves nearly 2,000 patients per year — the vast majority of whom are not Muslim.
“This is what Muslims are actually about,” 20-year-old clinic volunteer Danish Sayed said when we interviewed him. “If someone has hate in their heart for my religion, I definitely think I could persuade them out of it because of this clinic.” If ever there were an American success story, it’s this interfaith endeavor to heal the needy that is led largely by first generation Americans from a minority religious community.