Photography by Jen Delcastillo
Chris Bashinelli has one goal in life: to bridge the worlds gap of differences.
Though he’s Only 26 years old, Chris Bashinelli is probably best known for being one of the youngest people ever to moderate an event at the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations. (That, and he also appeared on HBO’s critically acclaimed hit show The Sopranos.) So what exactly lands someone in this position? Well, for starters, how about establishing your own socially conscious production company called Bridge the Gap TV, then serving as the host of its flagship series, Bridge the Gap? On the show (which includes team members like the famed Jane Goodall), Bashinelli travels to some of the poorest places on Earth and explores life there by meeting and working side by side with locals. It’s Bashinelli’s desire to show the world what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes for a day. The latest in the Bridge the Gap series will premiere July 19 on PBS and will feature Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. As reward for his hard work, Bashinelli recently was named a 2013 National Geographic Young Explorer, an honor that provided him with a grant for an upcoming expedition to Mongolia, where he will spend 30 days living the life of a nomad and visiting numerous communities. Before setting off on his new adventure, though, he took the time to chat with American Way about his extraordinary life.
AMERICAN WAY: You were something of a global citizen even as a kid in Brooklyn, N.Y., right?
CHRIS BASHINELLI: My friends were a mix of 13 nationalities, all sitting on my stoop. To me, the stoop is the essence of community and building relationships. Having friends from all over the world, I saw there are different cultures that influence the ways people live.
AW: You earned a theater degree and wanted to be an actor. What happened?
CB: I went on hundreds of auditions and finally landed a speaking part on The Sopranos. But on the day we were filming, I just felt unfulfilled — like I wasn’t following my real passion. I wanted to explore the world, so I went to Tanzania on what was called an academic safari. I was so naïve. I thought the Tasmanian devil was from Tanzania.
AW: What did you learn there?
CB: I had this media image of Africa as nothing but starving kids with flies on their faces, but there was so much more. I met Pete O’Neal, a former Black Panther who runs a community center in the village of Imbaseni. I asked him how I could make a difference, and he challenged me to put others’ needs ahead of mine. He said I should take $100 and do something good with it. We need to quit looking at everything through the lens of our own personal wants. Everywhere I go for the U.N., almost every issue can be traced back to this one simple idea of putting people first. It’s about trying to build a global stoop we can all share.
AW: How do you see your role with the United Nations?
CB: I think my role is that of a communicator between generations and cultures. I try to relay the issues in a very simple way that calls people to action, motivates them to do something.
AW: On your Bridge the Gap programs from Uganda and other places, you really get involved in the daily lives of people, sometimes taking on dangerous, messy jobs.
CB: You can’t assume you know what someone’s life is like without walking in their shoes. You’ve got to see the world from their point of view.
AW: How did your father’s death a few years ago change your life and your work?
CB: I always had this sense of delaying. You know: I can do it tomorrow or next year. In the face of death, all the nonsense in your life melts away and you see the core of what’s important. From him, I learned we have to find our “why” — our inspiration. For me, the “why” is creating positive media, inspiring people and bridging those cultural, ethnic and religious gaps around the world.
See more of Bridge the Gap TV at www.bridgethegaptv.com