Travel half the world for knowledge.
Aswar’s mother loves to recite a verse familiar to all Muslim Bangladeshis: “To gain knowledge, travel as far as China if you must.” She went one ocean further, and landed in Minneapolis in early 2001 with two of her children, Aswar and his sister, Palbasha.
The drive to educate her children led Aswar’s mother — a school principal back home — to quickly open a business on Northeast’s Central Avenue selling jewelry and South Asian clothing.
From a young age, Aswar often worked alongside his mother on her 14-hour days.
Getting settled, then thriving.
As the business grew, his mother forbade over-involvement in the business so Aswar and Palbasha could focus on their studies.
This allowed Aswar to graduate from the University of Minnesota three years early, and launch a career in filmmaking.
Filmmaking and business.
The arts are highly respected in the Rahman family. Palbasha became a renowned singer in Bangladesh and paved the way for Aswar to pursue filmmaking.
His first feature was an experimental work that secured funding for a Bengali-language horror film. That horror film generate the resources to create a light indie project in Minneapolis, which then led to four more full-length arthouse projects, and — most recently — a Minnesota State Arts Board funded feature.
Filmmaking proved to be much more than artistic expression — it was a profitable enterprise that required as much business management as it did creativity.
Aswar’s films led to the launched of the Cineapolis film studio, which in turn led to a nonprofit videography company, a wedding videography company, and a film distribution company. Most recently Cineapolis successfully hosted its first major film festival, and is now in the process of encouraging and facilitating overall film production in the Twin Cities, as well as distributing its own films.
Aswar’s parallel passion is technology. A trained User Experience Designer (a branch of website design), Aswar founded an UX research company (on hiatus for the campaing) and Eloquent, a web design firm.
Socioeconomic disparity in Minneapolis.
Aswar and his family got lucky. Minneapolis is nowhere near equality in opportunity when it comes to minority business ownership, along with countless other measures. As one of the lucky few, Aswar’s family benefitted from meeting the right people at the right time, having strangers go out of their way to help us, and having generally good fortune. That’s not to say they didn’t work hard — but no one in the family suffers the delusion that they merely applied elbow grease.
Aswar went to schools where, sometimes, a majority of his classmates were living in poverty. The neighborhoods he grew up in (Bottineau in Northeast, Camden in North) were especially hurt by the Recession, and many of the family’s friends went bankrupt — including Aswar’s mother. She has since recovered financially and — knock on wood — is prospering.
Opportunity, not pity.
A common message, heard time and time again in his conversations with friends and neighbors (many of whom were living through poverty) is this: that true change will come with equal opportunity.
Currently, our city is 40% minority, but minorities hold 17% of jobs and own 7% of businesses.
This is the root cause of our disparity — that less-established residents of the city are barely represented in the economy.
When it became clear that no other candidate for Mayor in 2017 was going to address this central socioeconomic issue of ownership and employment disparities, Aswar announced that he will run for the office of Mayor to a room of 60 supporters and well-wishers. His campaign announcement speech reached thousands via social media
Aswar envisions a prosperous Minneapolis, where all people can pursue their dreams and enjoy its rewards. A city where factors outside of one’s control don’t doom them to poverty or alienation. A city where anyone can build anything.
This city can only happen through communal effort and effective leadership. Aswar views his campaign as only the start of a long-term push to shape a fairer, more prosperous Minneapolis.