Asma Jama, 39, is a Somali-American who's also Muslim. That alone shouldn't be of anybody's concern, but to Jodie Bruchard-Risch, the fact Jama was different from her was offensive enough to prompt her to attack.
While having dinner at an Applebee's in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, in 2015, Bruchard-Risch heard Jama speaking Swahili. Jama was also wearing a hijab, which seemed to trigger Bruchard-Risch's sensibilities. Immediately, Bruchard-Risch told Jama she should be speaking English, then proceeded to smash Jama in the face with a glass beer mug.
After the horrific incident, Bruchard-Risch pleaded guilty and spent 113 days in jail for assaulting Jama. She also admitted she acted out of bias. Still, nothing would have made Jama feel better for the awful injuries she sustained.
“I could see it from the doctor's face that it was really bad," she said. "I had lacerations across my chest, all over my hands, and 17 total stitches."
Still, after the horrible ordeal she was forced to go through thanks to the bias and prejudice coming from Bruchard-Risch, Jama was more than surprised when the attacker's sister, 50-year-old Dawn Sahr, reached out about a year later to ask her how she was doing.
Later, they met in person.
"I wanted to reach out to you so much," Sahr said. "I just wanted to know that you were OK. That was my biggest concern."
Unfortunately, Jama couldn't simply answer she was “fine.”
“I used to be carefree," she told reporters. "I used to go everywhere by myself. I would say hi to strangers, but after what happened to me, I felt like I had to look over my shoulder every time I go outside."
Now, Jama won't even speak Sawahili in public out of fear.
“I realized I don't belong," Jama said. "I have to prove myself every single day and it makes me feel like I had to give up a lot of who I was."
After the attack, Sahr made a decision to stop talking to Bruchard-Risch, claiming that she has never forgiven her for what she did. If she had continued talking to her, she said, that would be “telling Jodie that it's OK; and it's not OK."
“You know, they say blood's thicker than water and you stand behind your family no matter what,” Sahr told Jama. “Well, you've got to draw the line somewhere, and you're my line.”
Sahr told Jama she wants her to go back to being the person she used to be, and Jama said she knows she will eventually, just not now.
It's tragic to know that for this beautiful relationship to flourish, a tragic and heartbreaking event had to take place first.
Unfortunately, many people allow hate to blind them to the fact that, no matter how different we may look or sound, we're all human beings who deserve to be safe and free from gratuitous harassment. Perhaps this story will inspire others to be better.
Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/David Ryder