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Lehigh Valley love letters give back to those who ‘deserve a voice’

Brian Rashid has crafted videos for his endeavor he calls "Love Letters to the World," a combination of short, emotive films and long-form love letters that highlight everyday people and places that make the world special. It connects people to each other. (Monica Cabrera/첥Ƶ)
Brian Rashid has crafted videos for his endeavor he calls “Love Letters to the World,” a combination of short, emotive films and long-form love letters that highlight everyday people and places that make the world special. It connects people to each other. (Monica Cabrera/첥Ƶ)
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It’s sometimes fortuitous where love can take you or what it can do.

Brian Rashid happened upon the concept of love letters to the world during an unplanned extended trip abroad in 2020, when COVID-19 went global. From that effort — ” he called it — Rashid has created nearly 50 missives of warmth and humanity in short videos, including about two dozen thus far in the Lehigh Valley.

“I want to be able to spark change,” Rashid said during an interview at Northampton Community College’s Fowler Center, near where he is living in south Bethlehem. “I want to give a voice to people who deserve a voice.”

He debuted for Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley on Feb. 20 at Allentown’s 19th Street Theatre. On March 5, he will present short videos from the eyes of those connected to Moravian University.

They are among the latest work Rashid, 41, has crafted for his endeavor he calls “Love Letters to the World.” He also plans to release a documentary on Promise Neighborhoods this year. And he is looking to do other videos in the Valley.

What does Rashid, who grew up in Peoria, Illinois, and has lived in several locations elsewhere in the U.S. as well as overseas, see about the Valley that makes it lovable? He used a host of descriptions: kindness, creativity, spirit of community.

He recognizes the Valley’s history, with a video of him in front of the former Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces that now overshadow the ArtsQuest campus in south Bethlehem, for example. “There is a lot of history here, right?” he said. “But there’s also a vision for a future that has yet to be written. The confluence of those two worlds makes it a very interesting place.”

The love letter to Uruguay that Rashid posted online in 2020 , not just residents of the South American nation. He said the letter drew worldwide attention and prompted thousands of messages to him.

“This thing that happened in Uruguay felt significant,” Rashid recalled, “and I needed to figure out what to do next. I believe in connecting with nature, and that nature has a lot of answers and power. And when we can tap into that power, we can see things clearly.”

When he returned in June 2022 to New York City, which is his permanent home, Rashid approached Bradley Tusk, the campaign manager for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whom Rashid knew from working on Bloomberg’s mayoral campaign. Tusk and a bookstore podcast studio, P&T Knitwear, helped fund Rashid to compose four months’ worth of interviews for his video vignettes.

 

After that, Rashid said, “I felt it was something I needed to build out.” He said he wants to take Love Letters globally.

To be sure, Rashid’s Love Letters is a business. He said it can cost between $10,000 and $50,000 to produce a love letter package, depending on the extent of a project. His staff or collaborators include video editor Andres Ramirez; Rashid shoots and directs the videos on his iPhone. He has incorporated the business with the name A Life in Shorts LLC.

But the love letters are also a labor of love for a man who once wanted to become mayor of New York, eventually channeling that energy by inspiring change through his creative talent.

His connection to the Valley began about 20 years ago, while studying law at City University of New York, when he met Bethlehem resident Fred Rooney, who was director of the school’s incubator program known as the Community Legal Resource Network.

  • Brian Rashid spends some time Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, walking...

    Brian Rashid spends some time Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, walking around the SteelStacks and old brick structures in Bethlehem. He has crafted videos for his endeavor he calls "Love Letters to the World," a combination of short, emotive films and long-form love letters that highlight everyday people and places that make the world special. It connects people to each other. (Monica Cabrera/첥Ƶ)

  • Brian Rashid spends time Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, walking around...

    Brian Rashid spends time Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, walking around the SteelStacks and old brick structures in Bethlehem. He said he really likes it there. Rashid has crafted videos for his endeavor he calls "Love Letters to the World," a combination of short, emotive films and long-form love letters that highlight everyday people and places that make the world special. It connects people to each other. (Monica Cabrera/첥Ƶ)

  • Brian Rashid spends time Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, walking around...

    Brian Rashid spends time Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, walking around the SteelStacks and old brick structures in Bethlehem. He said he really likes it there. Rashid has crafted videos for his endeavor he calls "Love Letters to the World," a combination of short, emotive films and long-form love letters that highlight everyday people and places that make the world special. It connects people to each other. (Monica Cabrera/첥Ƶ)

  • Brian Rashid spends time Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, walking around...

    Brian Rashid spends time Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, walking around the SteelStacks and old brick structures in Bethlehem. He said he really likes it there. Rashid has crafted videos for his endeavor he calls "Love Letters to the World," a combination of short, emotive films and long-form love letters that highlight everyday people and places that make the world special. It connects people to each other. (Monica Cabrera/첥Ƶ)

  • Brian Rashid, left, stands with friend Fred Rooney of Bethlehem,...

    Brian Rashid, left, stands with friend Fred Rooney of Bethlehem, whom he met 20 years ago. Rooney brought Rashid to the Lehigh Valley and helped connect him with several people from Moravian University and Promised Neighborhoods. Rashid has turned experiences from those who have lived, studied or worked in the Lehigh Valley into digital storytelling “love letters." The short films, which he shoots with an iPhone, shine a light on everyday people and places. He has developed love letters to Allentown, for Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley, and to Moravian University. (Monica Cabrera/첥Ƶ)

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Rashid and Rooney bonded over their ability to speak Spanish (both men are fluent). “[Rooney] was like, ‘You and me are going to have fun together,’” Rashid said.

Rooney, 71, who refers to Rashid as a colleague and friend, said, “Brian is a force of nature whose efforts capture the beauty of the unsung heroes in the Valley who enrich the lives of some of our most vulnerable residents.”

He told Rashid that he needed to spend time in the Valley to create love letters, helping to connect Rashid with several people from Moravian and Promise Neighborhoods, including Hasshan Batts, its executive director. The Allentown Love Letters released last month display the city’s culture and diversity, and

Allentown School Board member Zaleeae “Zaly” Sierra talks of how a family tragedy inspired her work with Promise Neighborhoods.

“I lost my uncle at the age of 9 years old to gun violence in my community,” Sierra says. “Since then, I have been an advocate to end gun violence and to be a support to other youth in the community who may be dealing with grief or who may be dealing with certain issues that my uncle was also dealing with.”

Batts thought the love letters would be a “perfect fit” for Promise Neighborhood’s communications campaign that includes anti-violence.

“We thought this was one of the best vehicles to add to our catalog of work, because it’s really about building up the value [of portraying Allentown more positively],” Batts said.

“I think we need to grasp anything that tells the store in a positive light of the people and the love and opportunity in this city.”

feature clips from more than a dozen students, alumni or faculty, including Rooney, a 1975 graduate.

Claire Kowalchik, the school’s editorial content director, said videos promote Moravian from the eyes of students, alumni and a faculty member. They are designed to inspire high school students to consider the Bethlehem school as well as build alumni pride.

The 7 p.m. Tuesday event, which will be held in Moravian’s Foy Concert Hall and is open to the public, will feature a short documentary film that will include bits from each vignette.

As for Rashid, “He’s on a mission to spread hope and light, and I think he does that with Love Letters,” Kowalchik said.

Rashid’s message of love has spread beyond the videos. His partner, Molly Pacheco, has self-published a children’s book with Reggie Grisby, a homeless man she met while walking along Bethlehem’s South Greenway park. Proceeds from the book go to people who lack housing in south Bethlehem.

It’s called “Reggie, Protector of the Universe,” and it is related to personal experiences of both authors and “to share a message of love and beauty even in the most challenging of times,” Pacheco said.

Learn more

To see Rashid’s work, go to . You can also view additional material on his various social media outlets available on Rashid’s home page.

To obtain a copy of Pacheco and Grisby’s book, go to Amazon, Barnes & Noble or wherever you get your books online. You can view more about Pacheco’s project by visiting her .

Morning 첥Ƶ reporter Anthony Salamone can be reached at asalamone@mcall.com.

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