Full Interview Transcript

Alejandro: Sam Cook or Ray Charles?

Rashid: Sam Cook

Alejandro: Adele or Mariah Carey?

Rashid: Mariah Carey

Alejandro: Mariah Carey! Madonna or Michael Jackson?

Rashid: Michael Jackson

Alejandro: John Legend or Usher?

Rashid: John Legend

Alejandro: Oh, Beautiful. Oh man, wow, I mean, there is no right answer, but I agree with you in all of this, I got one more for you since you’re a man, a world traveller. I’m gonna say 2 cities and you pick the one that fits best with you, Paris or Rome?

Rashid: Paris

Alejandro: Barcelona or Amsterdam

Rashid: Barcelona

Alejandro: Athens or Vienna?

Rashid: Vienna

Alejandro: Santorini or Tuscany?

Rashid: Oh Santorini

Alejandro: Porto or London?

Rashid: Oh I love Portugal… London, London

Alejandro: Those would be the hardest questions. I’m dying to find out, I wanna take everyone back in time, I wanna find out how did your parents meet and what was the heritage of your parents.

Rashid: I think my parents met, by an induced coincidence, my father’s mother and my mother’s mother were friendly, they were west Indian women, both of them with Jamaican roots, but one with Jewish roots and the other with a humanistic quaker approach, but these two women h a spiritual affection for one another, so they probably unconsciously made it possible for their children, but when they met, my father, a bit older than my mother… I was made in Jamaica, born in Boston. Their beginnings started in Jamaica as it were, but in a very small area, I’d like to say that my father in his male culture, along with his brothers, found it very acceptable, if not preferable, to try to be with as many women as they could be with at a certain age, but ironically and understandably enough, when it came time to get married, they wanted to marry some pure girl, who had never been, should we say, a part of anyone’s traffic

Alejandro: (laughs)

Rashid: So they found these women, either by virtues of xx(2:58) or by virtue of family, almost by accident, but they would go and look for them in places, simple places where there was sort of a natural aristocracy, money was not the makeup of these people’s majesty, but they had a spiritual substance, so this was the environment that my mother was really in. So when my father saw my mother for the first time, he did not have to worry about her background, he was absolutely consumed by her looks, and the fact that his mother had given him a silent thumbs up, and my mother’s mother had given it a thumbs up. So as they begin to meet, it appears to be innocent to my mother, because she is innocent.

Alejandro: Oh so they met there, they got married there…

Rashid: Well they were connected there, you know, country Gauch, where everyone agrees that that’s your guy and that’s your girl, this is your child (laughs) and eventually, the so-called western formalities either creep in or creep out, but marriage is more… you know what they often say, is that talking is about more than words and I think that that could also apply to marriage. You know, marriage is about more than words, but my grandmother was one of these women, she is a countrywoman, one of those women like a healer, she just understood stages and timing. She used to say “You don’t find the right person until you become the right person”, so I might be like “I’m looking for the perfect wife” so she would be like… “have you become perfect yet?”, and it was even an internal thing and you don’t become the right person until you find yourself, and since we’re getting deep let me honour your question by an indelicate response. I think that these two people where so in love with one another, that they combined to make one selfish person, so that when I was born I upset the apple cart. They were in love with one another, neither one another where prepared, they may not have known this, for a third person, someone they created, but that’s someone they now had to focus their love on as a primary object of their concerned responsibility.

Alejandro: Why Boston, why did they move there?

Rashid: Ok, prior to the end of WWII, what many educated Jamaicans or people in the colonies, the British Colonies, and the Caribbean and elsewhere did, was that at a certain time, if they had the money and the circumstance and the inclination, they would go to the mother country to be educated, you know, as part of their majesty, they may return to the colony, but they would have that cache of having marinated in the mother country, but after WWII England was on its knees, it was laying low, so, what happened is that both families decided to go to New England (laughs).
This is how concrete it was, can’t go to England, where else can we find the congruence of culture, oh! New England, and what is the epicentre of New England? Well, Boston.

Alejandro: Did your father and his brothers all come along?

Rashid: In piece they did, but some of the family went to Haiti, which was then a very lush and prosperous place, very French. I had a very famous cousin, Elver Silvera, playboy with the most famous Lamborghini is the Silvera Lamborghini, so there were those folks that went in that direction and then others to Cuba. There were some who went on to Havanna, who was then, once again very “Oh la la”, something special, something very romantic.

Once we came to Boston, came in the sole seriousness, and the Christmas, and the racism, and the immature reaction and the xenophobia, even the best of the Bostonians, of the 8:08 and the Irish thought they were less than them and as with the Irish and Italians, each one, having been put upon with attempt to diminish the next wave on immigration.

Alejandro: Who are you closest with, was it your mother?

Rashid: Well, it was my mother, my mother’s two sisters. If I could just branch that story as I told you, my mother and my father were not prepared. So, turns out this move, my mother’s parents, my grandparents, and her two sisters were the most seminal forces in my life. Her younger sister who is 93 now, still alive, was an artist and, just a romantic, raised me on Robert Lewis Stevenson and J.M Gary and all the stories of Beatrix Potter, you know all of these beautiful stories and then her older sister was a serious businesswoman, so this gave me a sense of responsibility and hard work. All of this in a very organic sense, none of this seemed to be forced, in a matter of fact it wasn’t… and I got it through the dermis, through the epidermis, you know they modelled what they had to share with me. I felt in some way that their rewards for living their lives the way that their parents had suggested, gave them this longevity. They were older than most because they had lived their lives with more truth than most, even my mother in her inability to be a mother, was reacting to hurt and disappointment in a relationship that had nothing to do with me, even though I had everything to do with the relationship. So, even my mother’s inability to be a mother didn’t necessarily make her a bad person, it made her a person who didn’t have a good reaction to a bad situation.

Alejandro:

Rashid: Of course! I think part of that anger worked itself out, not inside of my home but definitely outside. I found, and this is very interesting because I have a lot of older friends when I was younger who were wonderful role models, Erin Lopez and alike, these folks where 5 or 6 years older, but they treated me like a younger brother all the while, I think I had so many positive influences, it tended to mitigate the anger that was definitely just beneath the surface.

Alejandro: Did you ever have the need to travel .. they call it a gap year or whatever right…

Rashid: Your questions are suspiciously excellent. Benton College had this program called NRT or the Non-Resident-Term, in other words, because the winters were so gruelling, so, from December until March, you would be off-campus and children would go anywhere in the world, and that’s when I made my trip to the Amazon, to Iquitos, and lived with the Yagua and Kashina Indians and that’s when I went to Mexico and Guadalajara, to study and do some things that during my 3 NRTs.

Alejandro: In this stage, when you were studying anthropology and you’ve come back from these crazy adventures that you’ve been through, did you still feel that there was something you needed to do? Did you have a clear idea of where you wanted to go, where was that?

Rashid: I knew at that time I needed to go to a school where I could continue to study world philosophies and phenomenologies, mythologies, you know, just the myths and rituals that people use to consider themselves human, and I realized, my God, that was not law school, that was not business school. What it was, was at divinity school, so I found out the two divinity schools, that were really not denominational and one was Yale and one was Harvard.

Alejandro: Did she sense that you were at that stage figuring it out, you were trying to put things together, trying to figure out a puzzle and that was her way of nudging you saying…

Rashid: She and my grandfather, we’re sitting down, we’re having tea, this is a British way word, tea, how we didn’t have coffee, I didn’t believe that coffee existed (laughs). My grandfather says to me out of nowhere. “I don’t believe in luck, but if I did, it would be because of you, it’s not so much that you are lucky, but what I’ve witnessed is that you are good luck for your friends, I have noticed” and from the moment he said that I thought of friendship as being the coolest thing you could be is a friend. I mean, I had lived it, but I thought “Oh, I’m a friend”. This is why when people used to tell me “You shouldn’t be friends with the students” I said “but can’t you be friendly? what do you mean? What are you talking about? Do you have to act like an ass so they would respect you? I’m not interested in motivation, i’m interested in inspiration”. Because you can motivate people through fear but you don’t inspire anybody through fear, you reach them and you teach them. But it’s my grandpa talking to me, so I thought, oh my Goodness, I am good luck for my friends.

Alejandro: Ok, so you said, I’m ready, this is great, you change your name, you end up for the next 10 – 15 years, after you study, you end up teaching, you end up wanting to teach others, and I’m hearing your story now, and your upbringing and all the things that you went through…

Rashid: makes sense

Alejandro: Yeah, it completely makes sense, you decided to dedicate your life to help others, you’re now in one of the top-notch educational institutions, teaching there and then one night you’re at a friends house and, tell me how this thing went about.

Rashid: (laughs) Ok, first of all, I have this friend, his name is Eddie Bianchi, he did Deadwood and the Wire, he is an incredible director, he is my big brother, 16:08 min you know your life exists beyond the extreme of your extremities, you know, you’re life exists beyond your reach, but let your feet take you so your reach increases, but if you stay in the one place… I’m at his beach house and it’s like a private compound on this island, water island and I’m out there with this girlfriend, italian girl, adorable, but neither one of us had a stitch of clothing on, we’re playing this game Kadima, like volleyball with a paddle, like ping-pong but with a volleyball, in the compound next door, there’s a famous designer, Perry Ellis and Zoltan Brindisi and both these little sweethearts are gay as the Mad Hatter (laughs), they see me at this beach running, they didn’t see the girl, not the girl, they see me and they call Eddie, they have a conversation until I get back to the house, and Eddie cannot stop laughing and he says “you have some fans, our neighbour think that you’re adorable” and I just don’t even know what he’s talking about, “and they think you could be a model” and I asked “how did you let that go forward, you know these guys were hitting on me, did you tell them I wasn’t gay?” He said, “no, why should I, it was so much fun”, then we move forward in the story and Eddie said, you need to contact these people, this could be serious, now, Eddie is a director and a producer, so he understands recognizing talent, like a social hit, he says “dude, you have to call these people”. I do eventually call these people months later and make an appointment to go over there and we instantly hit it off, I love these guys, these guys were wonderful, talented, animated human beings.

Alejandro: Did you meet them at their house?

Rashid: At the agency. Zoltan Randle had an agency called Zoli, which is sort of a condensation of his name and it was a hot agency, there were only about 4 agencies, there were Eileen Ford and hers, Whilemina, then Elite, Johnny had his, this is where Jack Nicholson … where all the cats hang out because this agency had the beautiful girls, actually my wife was with that agency as well, point being, I listened to what these guys had to say and next thing you know, I’m a member of … I’m being signed with Zoli.

Alejandro: When you walk in… cause I wanna break this down, at this stage, have you at all thought about modelling or…

Rashid: I’ve always been interested in fashion and … not too much fashion but wearing clothing that was another sign of my inner reality, you know, I just like to be clean.

Alejandro: Take me to that day, they ask you to come to the office and … in New York City, I take it?

Rashid: In New York City, in the 60’s, between Lexington and Park, in that area, 64th – 66th in that area

Alejandro: Where you nervous?

Rashid: No, and don’t forget, I already had a real job, so it’s not for me a hit or miss make it or break it, I’m going in because it’s a hoot, it’s like ok, I get it. And Eddy was continuously harassing me to contact these people, and I said “Jesus, ok, I’ll do this thing, but just stop, ok? Just leave it alone”. So I go, we have this wonderful exchange, next thing I know, I’m in contact with this German Photographer, Rico Puhlmann and takes my picture. The next thing I know, now, this is very crazy, this time at Scarsdale high school, they had telephones in the classroom, which could actually be connected, you could call someone in the classroom, so I get a call from the classroom, the caller in the other end said “hello, we’re calling from Conde Nast, I’m John (21:37) secretary, we want to get the correct spelling of your name, because you’re going to be on the cover of the April issue, 1983 issue of GQ” I’m thinking, it’s either Eddie or Eddie’s put someone up to this, he just won’t let this thing go (laughs), so I hang up. Call again, so I’m like “listen, I don’t know who this is, but I’m actually in class, this telephone is in my classroom, so, it’s very funny, I get it, I know who GQ is and Conde Nast is, and you can tell Eddie Bianchi, that “hahaha”. Next call I get is from the general office, the general office calls and says, listen Rashid, there’s some people on the phone from Conde Nast, this is the biggest… they represented Vogue, an umbrella over this magazines, they said “We’ve given them… because they wanted the correct spelling of your name to make sure they were correct, and the secretary Mary says “honey, you’re gonna be in the cover of GQ?” But, I’m in class, I said “Thank you, but I don’t know if that was a real call, I don’t know”, she says, “I think it was a real call, I spoke to the people, and you evidently hang up on them, and you sounded completely uninterested Rashid” this is Mary Pitt, she says “They would like you to go to 666 Madison Ave. I have all of the information, they know you’re teaching, but they need you to come, not today, but two days from now”. Friday we get out early, at 2 o’clock, so I go down to 666 Madison Ave, the Conde Nast headquarters, I am announced to go to the floor of GQ, the elevator opens, and all I can see, the gigantic pictures of myself on the cover everywhere. That’s what GQ did if someone’s gonna be on the cover, for that month, they do… I was like, “holy shit, this is for real”. In an instant, I did recognize, my life is going to change. I knew what GQ was, I knew that all agencies were trying to get their guys on the cover, because it would instantly mean that you were a supermodel, you wouldn’t have to say it, the moment you were on that cover, it would have been to call you, there it is. I also knew in an instant it would be an advocation of my vocation, I was all in in Scarsdale high school, I loved my students, I loved my faculty, I was in awe of my fellow faculty members. I was a young guy, when I came in there was a lot of older heads who had made the reputation along with the students and the families and make that school, you know, give it the brand, the absolute scent of excellence, that bouquet of excellence, so, dude, I was not gonna leave Scarsdale high school, I’m an academician, but, I now have something else on my plate that’s going to demand my serious adult attention

Alejandro: So what happened? How did you do that? How did you balance both worlds?

Rashid: Well, what happens is that my contemporaries in the modelling business where going to be 19, 20, 21, maybe the oldest guy was going to be 25. I was 35, I had already been marinated in life, decisions I made, they where not made out of haste, and the understanding of other people would be impacted by these little decisions I was making, in other words, they may have been small in that I was making them, in my smallness, but they would be large in the ripple effect that they would have in my family, my close friends and certainly my students and the Scarsdale community, cause the Scarsdale community was well aware of international fashion who was the Mother Dina and Darren Everly, and Crist xx (26:23) was Ralph Lauren’s main secretary, at a certain juncture, he’s being criticized because, in this lifestyle that he is disseminating, there are no brown people, these are all the whitest, blondest, and this is a Jewish brother, who’s recreated this lifestyle, so, he’s been getting a little pushback. He eventually casts this beautiful brown skin woman named Aria, she becomes the first brown person to do a major campaign, and it’s in the newspapers, it’s in Time’s Magazine, you can probably find it if you look, and she was just adorable, and a brown-skinned woman with coarse cropped hair etc, but then he gets criticized about, well, “where is the guy”, he’s paying service to the criticism, which was not Ralph at all, he was a good human being to the bone, to the very core. He was a business person, so as he begins to receive this pushback, his secretary says “I got the guy”, I know exactly and you don’t have to do a thing to him, he’s already that person.

Alejandro: He is that person.

Rashid: I go down and meet Ralph, he is just, this time, I think, he’s had a brain operation, he’s sort of recuperating from it if I have my timing correct. I go into this beautiful office, you know with this British satinwood, and he greets me with the most… this is what happens, he is very much shorter than I, he looks at me and he almost shakes his head, and for whatever reason, I am as comfortable as I can be. I am wearing a Georgio Armani black label blue craped blazer, I must have jeans on, no socks and some beat up loafers, I … I look like him, and then he goes over to me, touches me and goes .. because, don’t forget, he is a clothier, he feels the material of my jacket, and he looks at me, and he says, “where did you get the idea to do all of this?” and I said “Ralph, this is just… you know, this is the outer sign of my inner reality, this is just, look who it is” and he says to me, “you’re gonna be my Gary Grant”. I’ll never forget that because Gary Grant was a hero of mine and I loved the way he dressed himself. Now, I don’t know what that means in terms of my time, I do know, that since his secretary is a parent, he MUST know I’m a teacher (laughs).

Alejandro: How long were you at the office, when you met him?

Rashid: Hours, normally when you’re at the office your secretary, comes and makes you a make-believe call, but, oh, this secretary is the parent! We were in there so damn long, I was ready to say, I told you, out of complete affectionate respect, I liked this guy, I still like him!

33:03 min And someone calls and says “have you seen the New York Times?” and I go, “no, I haven’t seen it”, “you need to get that paper dude”, I said “well I got the Times, but I haven’t seen it yet”, he said “go to the men’s fashion section” and I look at it and there’s a full page ad, and all it says in the full page ad is “and that’s the way he chose …

Alejandro: It’s a black and white portrait of you sitting in a pose…

Rashid: Yes, sitting in one of those great chairs, very at ease, and I told you, I was so comfortable in this, no one had to say “oh, look more relaxed”… I got it, let’s just don’t forget I’m an older guy, I may not look like I’m ancient, but I’m not 21, I’m no 25, I’m no 30. I mean I’m … how old are you?

Alejandro: I’m 32. So you were 3 years older than me when this happened

Rashid: (laughs) But the point is, I just want to make the point, It was one of the situations where I thought, if nothing else happens in this fashion world, I’ve been on the cover of GQ.

Alejandro: That’s what models in the world dream about and work for their entire lives, yeah

Rashid: and I was the last brother on the cover, that’s even more famous than being the first, the last person. So he becomes famous by default, there would be no other models that would be able to get on the cover of GQ because GQ is made up in mid to go to celebrity format, they will now have celebrities on the cover, so, once again, good luck.

Alejandro: and that’s where you get Denzel Washington and you get all the celebrities

Rashid: It’s just luck, and then to have this incredible experience with Bruce Webber and with Ralph, you know, it’s fine if they tell me that is over tomorrow. But then, I didn’t know it would be a 20-year stint …

Alejandro: (Laughs)

Rashid: After I got on the cover or GQ, to the credit, the ultimate credit, the black fashion press was on me like white on rice, and the next thing you know, I’m on the cover of Essence magazine.

Alejandro: What would you advise for anyone that is beginning their journey and trying to figure out what they wanna do, what would be some lessons or anything that comes to mind?

Rashid: There are two words that come to mind, and I’ll give you a phrase, but the two words are: what you should be looking for and responding to. It’s not motivation, but inspiration. So in other words, you should not, although many people are motivated by money, by a certain type of recognition. Inspiration, you should be motivated by that which turns you on, you married this beautiful woman, when you met her, did she turn you on before you probably even know her name? So, what I’m saying, and recognize that as the kernel of credibility, it’s not like, “I can make how much money again? I wanna do that”, what I’m talking about is a silent and very personal type of exchange, which is why you may need to explain to someone why you’re doing this rather than doing that. If you can tie your inspiration to some form of laughter and internal joy, and man I’ve never felt higher in my life and moments and like right now, I see you cats after you graduated, OMG, I couldn’t be more proud … if I keep talking, I’m gonna start crying. And the phrase basically is: You don’t find the right person until you become the right person and you can just substitute “person” for the job, for a career, but you don’t find the right person … so, at last, these actors or performers that are doing very well but they don’t know who they are and it’s the time of that’s troubling these athletes, then they’re on the pitch, they’re doing so well, it’s the time when they’re not kicking that ball around, the time when they’re not catching the ball, because the ones that do … then money becomes a monster, money doesn’t mean that you have more opportunity to choose options that are on a safe range …

Alejandro: Going back to being in your class, not until now, when I’m doing more self-reflection do I realize, how even more meaningful and impactful finding your class was, because it allowed me to connect to a freedom, to another level of energy, it was so refreshing

Rashid: But you literally were joyful, and I could feel you thinking, and also, your energy was very infectious.

Alejandro: I’ve been very blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of your class and to really witness and be a part of your art form, of your communication with young minds and the inspiration you bring to them and I wanna share that with you because that was very meaningful to me.

Rashid: Thank you.