'You're my line'

Women’s budding friendship forged in the fire of hate and intolerance

Dawn Sahr and Asma Jama (Twitter / StoryCorps)

At a glance, Dawn Sahr and Asma Jama might appear like improbable friends. Putting aside any visual prejudices and examining their backstory only makes the idea of friendship between them even less likely. But here we are, the two women from different backgrounds and connected by a horrible act of violence, are able to embrace like sisters in the photo above.

Nearly two years ago, Jama was out enjoying dinner with her family at a popular chain restaurant in Coo Rapids, Minnesota. She is a Somali-American Muslim and, during the the meal, was wearing a hijab and speaking Swahili. Seated at a table nearby was a woman named Jodie Bruchard-Risch. She was seething at the sight of Jama, and the sound of her voice speaking a foreign language. Bruchard-Risch approached Jama’s table and demanded that she speak English — and then smashed her in the face with a beer mug.

“I could see it from the doctor’s face that it was really bad,” says Jama, who is now 39. “I had lacerations across my chest, all over my hands, and 17 total stitches.” Bruchard-Risch ended up pleaded guilty, admitted her violence was fueled by bias and served 113 days in jail for the assault.

Dawn Sahr was appalled by the crime, and she had a deep personal connection to it. Bruchard-Risch is her sister. In fact, Sahr was so disturbed by her sister’s actions that’s she’s been unable to forgive, or even speak with, her. She also felt compelled to reach out and check on Jama’s wellbeing after the legal process ran its course. So, she tracked Jama down online and asked how her physical and emotional recovery was going. Recently, the two met in-person for the first time when the were brought together by StoryCorps, a foundation devoted to chronicling people’s personal stories.

“I wanted to reach out to you so much,” Sahr told Jama when the came face to face. “I just wanted to know that you were OK. That was my biggest concern.”

Jama told her the attack had fundamentally changed who she is. “I used to be carefree. 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,” she told Sahr. But Jama was also deeply appreciative for Sahr’s outreach.

“For you to stand up for somebody you don’t know, and to say that what she did was unacceptable, that meant the world to me,” Jama said.

“You know, they say blood’s thicker than water and you stand behind your family no matter what,” Sahr replied. “Well, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere, and you’re my line.”

Their remarkable story was featured on Friday’s episode of Morning Edition on NPR. Listen to them in their own voices below.

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