words by Kat Thompson
photography by Shaughn Cooper
Noor Tagouri knew she wanted to be a journalist from a very young age. The Libyan-American has always been an avid storyteller, and took a lot of inspiration from Oprah: “I would come home and watch Oprah every single day with my mom at 4 pm sharp,” she told me on the phone, laughing. At 23-years-old, Noor has already accomplished a lot. With a lot of courage, she quit her local news job and independently created a documentary researching the disturbing occurrences at Forest Haven, a facility for those with intellectual disabilities that has an untold history of alleged abuse. From there, she took on what she calls her “dream job” at Newsy, and is awaiting the release of her next documentary series entitled, “A Woman’s Job,” showcasing the strength of women who work in male-dominated industries.
I am not surprised in the slightest by Noor’s resounding success. Any challenges she has faced as a Muslim woman of color don’t hold her back—she is unfaltering in her tenacity and unafraid. In fact, Noor seems to be motivated by the doubts, with a complete understanding of the complex relationship between good and bad, success and failure. “If something bad happens to me, I always know that there’s something good in it or there’s a reason that that happened… I just don’t ever have any doubts about the things that happen in my life. I have this total trust and faith that everything is going to be okay and everything will work out.” It’s an inspiring message, a beacon of light for anyone going through something difficult. Noor champions this—she is providing a platform for those who are oppressed, for those who lack a voice. She gifts us authentic stories and doesn’t see an end in sight—and I’m excited, in some small way, to be apart of her story. Meet Noor Tagouri.
What is your name, age, and title/occupation?
Noor Tagouri, age 23, and title/occupation is journalist and motivational speaker.
What about you surprises people the most?
Surprises people the most? That’s tough. I think cause I’m really loud and I’m very open, so people know a lot about me. I think one thing that does surprise people often is that my choice in wearing a hijab and that I like to wear it and my parents never said anything to me about wearing it and never thought I was going to.
Why do you think that surprises people? Just out of misconceptions or…
I think most people’s perception of Muslim women wearing a hijab is that someone made them wear it. They don’t realize that it has to be a choice.
What do you think is the most challenging or infuriating thing about working in your industry?
I think the most challenging thing is remaining objective, especially with everything happening today and finding that balance between being objective and being fair but being tough and never drawing a false moral equivalence when there are two sides to the story, but there’s a clear oppressor and people who are oppressed.
That’s really interesting. So when you’re talking about objectivity, how do you do that? How can you be critical while trying to seek another perspective without bringing in your own opinions, you know?
I think you just have to make sure that throughout you telling the story and asking questions that you’re being fair but you’re being tough. You’re challenging all sides to the story and all ways of thought and that it’s more productive as a journalist for you to present those and be hard on those people involved in the story that you know are maybe taking advantage of their audiences. Especially in today’s fear of politics, I think it’s really important to keep that in mind, that we’ve never had words or phrases like “alternative facts” or “falsehoods” or “fake news.” Those weren’t things that really existed before this past year, so how to kind of maneuver around that and still maintain a sense of professionalism and a journalistic ethic. And it’s really hard. To be honest with you, I don’t think that it’s possible for anybody to be completely, 100% objective. I think objectivity has totally been redefined, especially since social media came around. And I think that it’s important that people—not bring their opinions into their stories, but bring their perspective and their background knowledge into the story. So for instance, me being a Muslim American woman and telling a story about issues that Muslim Americans are going through, I’m going to have a different perspective because I’m there and I’m in the field. It’s more important to hear that perspective from somebody who has that background rather than someone who has never met a Muslim before, doesn’t know anything about the religion or the cultures that are involved and is telling the story completely wrong.
What’s been happening is unprecedented because you can’t even cite The Washington Post without someone being like, “Well, they’re completely slanted and I don’t agree with you.”
But anyway, here’s a more fun question. What is your go-to cure for a bad day?
An episode of Bob’s Burgers and a box of Toni’s Own lemon cookies.
Oh my god, yes. That sounds perfect. Bob’s Burgers always.
Like, I’m not even joking. I’m like savoring… cus like seasons 1-5 are on Netflix, and season 7 is on fox.com but season 6 is nowhere except illegal websites. I found a site that has all of season 6 and I’m savoring them because I’m so nervous to lose them because I don’t want to keep rewatching them! Bob’s Burgers—I don’t know what it is about Bob’s Burgers, but it’s so therapeutic. It’s so therapeutic.
I know! I haven’t even watched season 6 or season 7, I’ve watched the first 5 seasons over and over again.
Girl. Yeah, watch season 7. The thing is, it gets darker and more funny. And it’s great; I love it.
Bob is my favorite character, for sure.
Uh, and Louise?!
She’s a good one too, for sure! And I love Tina too.
It’s hard! It’s [Bob’s] deadpan humor though—just him being like, “Oh God.” That kills me.
So great! [laughs]
Okay, that’s a good one. Next question—this one might be a little bit more difficult. What empowers you?
The women that I surround myself [with] and the thought of needing to be the person that I wish I would have had when I was twelve. Like, that’s something that really really keeps me going because I always get people who send me messages constantly about how I inspired them or how I gave them confidence or I had a mom who told me that her sixth grade daughter started wearing the hijab at school and no one at her school wears it—she’s the only Muslim there. And how she was really nervous about it at first and people were making fun of her and then she pulled up my Instagram and showed all of these girls and was like, “Before you say anything to me, why don’t you look up Noor Tagouri and then come talk to me.” And like, I never had that. I never had anyone like that—and that like really humbled me and makes me want to work a million times harder because I know how important that was to me and I feel like I would’ve gone through a lot less pain. Not that pain is bad, but I would’ve learned a lot faster and I would’ve grown a lot faster had I had someone like that. Just the thought of being that person is very motivating to me.
That’s so awesome. You really are paving the way for people and for young girls, and I think that’s really empowering—it’s very special.
Thank you so much.
This kind of relates to what you just said, but how do you want to make the world a better place?
I don’t know. You can take that really broadly, like, “I just want to eradicate world hunger!” and whatever, blah blah blah. But really, I think it starts at home. I have a lot of things I’m passionate about, whether it is working with my family in making winter care packages or doing grocery runs for the homeless or if it’s going and speaking to young folks, or trying to go and tell people’s stories. I don’t know. I want to make the world a better place by giving people the mic and giving people the floor and giving people the platform to share their truth and share their story, and kind of almost hold their hand while they’re doing it and make them feel safe and make them feel empowered and assure them that what they’re doing is going to help at least one person, if not millions. Just kind of giving people the strength to find that voice and find whatever it is their passion is and using that passion and skill to work towards causes that pain them, or that they’re familiar with.
That’s really cool. That question is always so interesting because people are like, “Well, my way of changing the world is incremental and small, but it’s pertinent to me.” So with you, you’re a journalist. You tell stories. My last interview, she was a make up artist and she made people feel good and spread positivity. It’s just really cool to talk to people and know that their method is so personal… but anyway. Here’s a fun question. This is my favorite ice breaker—what is your death row meal?
Okay, this is so funny because I was just having this conversation with people. I listened to a podcast—I think it’s called “What is Your Last Meal”? Anyway, I guess there’s two meals. One would be a spicy chicken sandwich meal from Chick-fil-A with a lot a lot a lot of Chick-fil-A sauce. Yeah, that is such a weakness man, you don’t understand. The other would be a truffle mac n cheese.
Mmmm. Like from somewhere specifically? Or just a truffle mac n cheese?
Well, in my head I’m thinking of this gnocchi that my Italian friend used to serve at her old restaurant in New York. She doesn’t have that restaurant anymore and I haven’t ever had anything like that since then, but that’s what I was thinking in my head. Just a truffle mac n cheese, and anything cheese. I honestly actually have a cheese addiction.
I read this article kind of recently, I think it was on some food blog. But it was talking about how cheese has the same addictive qualities as—
Yeah! I read that and was like, “What the heck, no wonder!”
I know. I know. Yo, so many people have sent that to me—it’s not even funny.
So it’s real. This is a known thing about you. Cheese is your weakness.
What do you think is the one perfect word to describe you?
Ugh, I hate that I’m going to say that, but loud. I’m not even joking. I always tell people that I’m half deaf because I talk so loud and I’m so loud.
That’s awesome. It’s cool that you’re just like, yeah, that’s who I am.
It is though!
There’s nothing wrong with that. Loud women always do great things. What do you think is the most important lesson that you’ve learned in your lifetime?
I know it sounds kind of corny, but this is a true epiphany, revelation, or whatever you want to call it. But it’s that everything truly truly truly happens for a reason and where you are in your life, you’re meant to be there. I’m obviously a person of faith and we have a word in Arabic called “Tawakkul”… and it literally means putting all your trust and faith in God. And that’s the one thing that like, has always been—like my mom says it’s like her anxiety pill or her therapy. And I would say the same for me. Anytime anything in my life happens, I always know there’s a purpose. And if something bad happens to me, I always know that there’s something good in it or there’s a reason that that happened. Whatever is meant to be—I just don’t ever have any doubts about the things that happen in my life. I have this total trust and faith that everything is going to be okay and everything will work out. That’s my biggest lesson that I’ve learned because it’s kept me from ever feeling like a failure. Instead, I’ve always taken failure to be a stepping-stone or a bridge to the next success or whatever it is. I’ve never thought to myself, “Why me?” because I’ve always looked at it from a completely different perspective, and that’s because of that trust.
What is the accomplishment that you’re most proud of?
I’m taking this from a career standpoint I guess. I think the accomplishment that I’m most proud of was quitting my job in local news and taking on a documentary that I knew was meant to be told and wasn’t ever really told before. That was the Forest Haven documentary. Using that to kind of throw out the trust that I felt and saying, “This is what I’m [doing], reigniting my passion in journalism and storytelling. I’m tired of chasing fire trucks and reporting on water main breaks.” I did something that I’m still passionate about and I did it myself. Literally a few months later, I got my dream job offer at Newsy and now I’m literally about to premiere my series, A Woman’s Job, about women who work in male-dominated fields. And it’s like the most badass thing I’ve ever seen, and that’ll probably be the next thing that I’m most proud of. We just finished the trailer and I literally started tearing up because I was like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe this is real.” Using that documentary, and having the realization that who I am—and embracing my identity—is not the disadvantage that I thought it was. It’s actually my advantage because I’m able to go into stories and get access that other people would never get because of who I am and because I embrace my identity. Time and time again, in every single story that I’ve told, that has been a reoccurring theme. People find a trust in me and they open up to me and become vulnerable because they know I know what it’s like to be nervous to give someone your story, to be misrepresented, and they know I would never do that to them.
Did you always know you wanted to be a journalist or a storyteller?
Literally since I was like a child. Before I knew what the term ‘journalism’ meant. I don’t think I even knew what that was until middle school, and I knew I wanted to be a storyteller when I was probably seven or eight years old. I would come home and watch Oprah every single day with my mom at 4 pm sharp. [Even] now, people who were on my school bus in elementary school would message me and be like, “I remember in third grade when you used to be like, you were gonna be Oprah one day.” And here I am.