From billboard to book: Magid’s call for kindness

“Magid injects optimism in the bleakest of times and speaks convincingly about how to foster hope in ourselves and others, and to couple it with action.” Francesca Gater of Friends of the Earth Europe and the Green World Editorial Board reviews ‘The Art of Disruption: A Manifesto for Real Change’ by Magid Magid.

Magid Magid
Francesca Gater

Magid’s ‘Manifesto for Real Change’ began as a billboard at Sheffield’s Tramlines music festival.

During his term as the city’s youngest ever Lord Mayor – and first black, refugee Mayor, and first Green! – in 2018, the festival organisers invited him to put anything he wanted on a 12-foot-tall billboard. The result was Magid’s ten commandments for Sheffield. Ten principles to live by for a better world which capture Magid’s philosophy, humour and optimism.

Part manifesto, part autobiography, part 300-page motivational speech, the book dedicates a chapter to each commandment. For something he says he came up with quickly, they stand up surprisingly well to scrutiny.Book cover: The Art of Disruption by Magid Magid

Some of Magid’s stories are already well-known; his arrival in Sheffield as a refugee aged 6 from Somalia, his Lord Mayor official portrait squatting in his Doc Martens, his symbolic act to ban ‘wasteman-in-chief’ Donald Trump from Sheffield. Other stories are not well-known, and I learned about his passion for mountain-climbing, his route into politics, his first encounters with the Green Party, and the Sheffield City Council Labour group’s petty opposition to things he did as Mayor.

He also opens up about self-doubts and personal difficulties he has known and overcome. But this is as much a book about all the people who have supported Magid over the years as it is about him – from his mum who gets her own chapter, to people he’s met on the bus. He is humble, self-deprecating, and despite having an out-of-the-ordinary story to tell, clearly doesn’t consider himself exceptional.

Various chapters include excerpts from speeches Magid has made, and letters he has written and received. Most are positive and inspiring, and sometimes moving. But he also chooses to re-print hate mail he has been sent. (He kept a ‘hate box’ during his time as Mayor.) This embodies his way of dealing with the haters – meeting racism and hatred head-on, and calling out ‘pr*ckish’ behaviour. Empathy, compassion and kindness are core to Magid’s philosophy – he advocates for these on almost every page – and this goes for people who hate as well. Whilst he advocates focusing on the big stuff, being positive, and not losing energy on the abuse, he also encourages dialogue and understanding almost continuously.

Magid manages to do in the book what he does in person, in his speeches and on social media – connect with people. He addresses the reader throughout as ‘you’, and it’s not cringey or cheesy, it’s authentic and it works. In one powerful passage he speaks directly to young men who feel the need to carry knives: “I understand your fear…but please leave your knife at home, it’s just not worth it”.  In another he talks to people contemplating suicide or suffering mental health problems, urging them to get help. To those of us who know someone who is feeling down, “please just reach out to them…let them know you’re there,” he counsels.

He speaks directly to all of us who doubt our ability to make a difference. Whilst he doesn’t hold back on his criticism of the inhumane Tory government, including the impact its cuts have had on youth clubs and services in poor parts of Sheffield, his is a practical manifesto. My number one take-away is that all of us have influence. Random acts of kindness have the power to change someone’s day, and the world.

It’s a sad indictment of these times we’re living in, when politics and society can seem so polarised and divided, that Magid’s unwavering message of kindness and compassion is deemed to be disruptive!  

Magid injects optimism in the bleakest of times and speaks convincingly about how to foster hope in ourselves and others, and to couple it with action. If you’re feeling low on hope and lacking motivation in what is set to be a long, hard winter, read this book.