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Next Story: Bunmi


On building communities and belonging

My grandma was born and brought up in Bangladesh at a time where arranged marriages were common practice. She loathed the idea because it felt at odds with her desire to pursue her education and career. Nevertheless, her parents insisted that she get married and immediately arranged for suitors to come by the next day. In protest, my grandma shaved her head to appear unattractive and ward them off. Her parents were horrified, but the first suitor was unphased. They got to talking and he ensured her that no matter what, he would help her pursue her education. He kept his word and she grew to be a leader at an American NGO non profit while they raised six incredible children together.

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My grandma’s strong sense of self and her unwavering belief that the currency of education opens doors are themes that have been passed down through each generation of my family. It was in this pursuit that my parents both dedicated their lives to education and immigrated to the US so that their kids too would have the opportunity to pursue education and fulfill their dreams.

My parents are both organic chemistry professors. After my dad completed his post doctorate at the University of Chicago, he chose to join the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee as a professor. We didn’t know many people upon arrival, but my parents’ generosity and graciousness meant that our door was always open. Pretty soon, we were hosting regular dinners. There was intentionally never a kid’s table, so I got to sit around the dinner table with all the adults. Through those meals I learned the importance of being curious and truly listening to people’s stories.

While Wisconsin is far from being a diverse place with regards to other South Asians, we discovered a powerfully tight-knit Bangladeshi community. We would also travel around the country performing Bengali plays. It was not only a way for us to share our culture, but also to meet other Bangladeshi families and build a sense of connection. Even if our community was small, it was all that was needed to help my parents feel less alone and closer to home.

Sharing, rather than conforming, enabled me to have a deeper sense of belonging.

Sharing, rather than conforming, enabled me to have a deeper sense of belonging. I was lucky because my classmates came from many different cultures, and we all shared different elements of ourselves with each other. People embraced our culture and always wanted to learn more. My girlfriends, who are not Bangladeshi, even wanted to wear saris for homecoming. So we did! There we were, a bunch of teen girls dressed in saris for homecoming in Wisconsin. 

While I was being included and felt welcome, it was a guest speaker at our school who inspired me to be proactive in forming community. He offered us advice: “Always be kind because you never know what others are going through. There are probably classmates of yours who walk down these halls and don’t talk to a single person in a day.” I recall that moment vividly, thinking of a boy in our class who didn’t talk to anyone. I invited him to sit with us for lunch starting that day.While it was a small gesture, he reached out to me years later to thank me for creating that space for him. It’s so easy for us to extend kindness, and that moment helped me realize just how much connection has the power to shape our lives.

The Grand, our group coaching platform,  is a manifestation of all that I’ve learned in community building. Our guiding principles and rituals lay the foundation for our members. The first principle is ‘We come together as humans’. It sets the tone of our community and establishes that we don’t care about titles or roles. Rather, we care about you and your stories. Because of this, people can show up how they want to. This ties closely to one of our other principles: ‘Vulnerability is a superpower’. People want to share their experiences, but so often feel like they don’t have permission to do so or that they won’t be accepted. In some ways, the pandemic has enabled us to be more vulnerable because we’ve all been through a collective trauma that established a deep sense of understanding. While we’ve developed empathy from this shared experience, we encourage our community to continue practicing empathy through one of our rituals called “red, yellow, green”. This ritual helps people express where they are in a given moment. Green means “I’m here and fully present”, yellow means “I’m here but there’s a couple other things on my mind” and red means “I’m physically here but my head is completely elsewhere”. It’s a great way to open up conversations because we often assume that when we’re meeting with a group of people that everyone is green. By starting with a check in, we can better meet people where they are and ensure that nothing gets lost. 

We started The Grand with a mission to make the world a less lonely place. We can feel most alone when going through a big work or life transition or challenge. My hope and dream for The Grand is that no one will have to walk alone when they're going through the hard stuff, that they have a group of confidants and a community, so they can not just work through it, but also become the grandest version of themselves in the process.

Thank you for reading this story from the Belong Collection.Our affirmation candles serve as a physical reminder to embrace your power. We donate 10% of revenues from our Belonging affirmation candle to The Downtown Women's Center.

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About Anita

Anita Hossain Choudhry is the Co-founder and CEO of The Grand, a platform and community for group coaching to navigate transitions at the intersection of work and life. Anita is also an executive coach, supporting clients on their journeys to become the most effective and intentional leaders they can be. Prior to that, she was Head of Knowledge at First Round Capital, where she designed and launched hundreds of learning initiatives providing entrepreneurs and tech operators resources to stay motivated, accelerate their businesses, and build community. Anita graduated from Georgetown University and is an MBA graduate from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where she launched Wharton Storytellers, a community to connect and inspire through stories.

Mantras and Affirmations

Ichi-go ichi-e – treasure the unrepeatable nature of a moment, Japanese idiom

“Trust the timing of your life”


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