We had the good fortune of connecting with Munib Rezaie and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Munib, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
This is definitely one of the most difficult questions for me to answer. The easiest reply for me is: I’m a world citizen. My parents are from Iran, but I’ve never been there. I was born in Belgium, but I never lived there beyond the first few months of my life. I grew up in Brazil, Macau, China, and the United States, and feel at home just about anywhere. I am from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. When I call myself a world citizen, I mean it more than just the fact that I’ve lived in different countries. For me, world citizenship is more of a global ethic that accepts the inherent oneness of the human race and ties it to a sense of global solidarity. To me, that sense of solidarity MUST be tied to pursuing social justice for every single person on the planet, not to mention the planet itself!
Growing up in these different countries, I never really felt like a tourist, you know? My family was always a part of the community, engaged in its efforts, contributing to its growth, and building community. I think that kind of upbringing is something I still carry today, wherever I go. It’s easy – and enjoyable – to make new connections with people, to help others find ways to connect, and to always try to improve myself as well as the reality of the communities I’m a part of. It’s definitely a big reason why I started an independent publishing company and a children’s book series: to help contribute to the bigger work that I feel needs to be done.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Meet Coach Ben is the first book – of hopefully many! – in a series of children’s books with a couple of goals: 1) teach kids social emotional learning skills, 2) provide healthy models of masculinity, 3) present a naturally diverse cast of characters, and 4) provide parents and caregivers with practical parenting and child-rearing advice.
My professional career and trajectory feels as diverse as my geographical biography! My bachelor’s degree was in communication and creative writing. And then went on to complete master’s and doctoral degrees in communication with a focus on film and other media. After gaining some experience teaching at a university, I started to work at private K-12 school in Atlanta. A couple of years into this job, I decided to go back to school to pursue a graduate degree in school counseling – which I should be done with in late 2021! I see the book as the culminating result of all these experiences. I’m using all of the skills – professional and others – that I’ve learned over the years towards this creative expression. And I think that’s a big lesson I’ve learned along the way: you never know how your current experiences will shape your future endeavors. But they will! Or at least, they have the potential to if you’re open to learning and challenging yourself to grow from them.
When I think about challenges that had to be overcome, I can’t help but actually think about the generational challenges that went down before I was even born that got me to where I am today. My personal challenges feel insignificant compared to those. I’m a Bahá’í, that’s my religion; and it’s a religion that’s still heavily persecuted to this day in my ancestral country of Iran. I bring this up because in my book, Meet Coach Ben, the main character’s name is Hasan — after my grandfather. My grandfather was one of the caretakers of the National Bahá’í Center in Tehran, which came under military occupation in the 1950s. From what I understand he suffered a great deal of abuse during that time and died in 1955 under circumstances that, to be honest, I still don’t fully understand. Hasan is also the middle name of my youngest son, who was the main inspiration for the character in the book. That kind of blows my mind, you know? How over just a handful of generations, we go from my grandfather being persecuted, to his son escaping Iran, to his grandson – me – living in enough comfort and ease to create a children’s book inspired by my own son that somehow calls back to my grandfather. I’d like to think it’s kind of a second chance for my grandfather to have this carefree positive childhood through the world of the book that he never got to experience in real life.
I think what I’d like the world to know about my book, and our independent publishing company, Rezister Publishing, is that there is always a better way. There is always a more just way, a more equitable way, a more fair way, and a more intentional way to do things, even in the world of business which can feel so hardened in its old ways. And that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to show that it’s possible to do things differently. To follow a different business model that prioritizes certain values as much as – if not more than – the bottom line. That’s our ultimate goal.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Ooh, what a great question. For me, food would be the centerpiece, for sure. Some of definite go-tos would be my favorite Chinese restaurant, the Szechuan style joint JIA over at Ponce City Market; Delbar Middle Eastern in Inman Park for Persian cuisine; Plant Based Pizzeria for some delicious vegan pizzas, and hands-down greatest cauliflower crust I’ve ever tasted; Chai Pani in Decatur for great Indian street food; Arepa Mia for – you guessed it – amazing arepas, as well as sweet plantains and empanadas; Dua Vietnamese for my favorite pho which also takes me back to my days at GSU; and I better stop here before I drool all over my keyboard. Some of the spots we would visit would definitely include the beltline, Georgia Aquarium, the High, Piedmont Park…I gotta say, this interview is really helping me remember why I love this city. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Wow. This is a tough question, because there are so many! I’m here pursuing my goal of becoming a children’s book author because I finally took that step – the one that can feel like the hardest one to take – where I take an idea and turn into a tangible thing I can hold in my hands! My book, Meet Coach Ben, was inspired by two very real people: my son, Thornton Hasan, and his PE teacher, Coach Ben Szymanski. This journey I find myself on would not be possible without these two people. One, an incredible educator who cares so deeply about his students’ growth, and the other a young boy with unending energy who so clearly sees the goodness and loving energy in his teacher.
Next, I have to give a shoutout to my book’s illustrator, Ron Lapitan. The creative partnership I found in him surpassed my wildest dreams. He took my ideas and written word and helped transcend them into something truly special with his beautiful manga-inspired hand-drawn illustrations. The crazy thing is, we’ve never met each other in person! This was done entirely through Zoom and numerous text and email exchanges. Thank you!
I also have to give a shoutout to Jason Levister, my business partner in this independent publishing venture. When we were brainstorming ideas to pursue together, nearly 2 years ago, I shared my initial thoughts about a book about “Coach Ben,” a beloved PE coach who could help kids develop some social-emotional skills and actively push back against ideas that support toxic masculinity. As soon as I was done, he said “that’s the one. Do it.” So I did. I don’t think I would be here today with a published book in hand without that simple but encouraging push. I could go on! My wife! My parents! My family! : )
Other: Coach Ben Books merch store: https://shop.spreadshirt.com/coach-ben-books/