To My #Resilient City and the People of #Syracuse, NY — We Need #Empathy
By Emad Rahim
As I reflect on the 30 something years I have spent in Syracuse, one word comes to mind “resilience.” I think of the adversity that my mother had to overcome as a refugee in Syracuse. Surviving the Killing Fields of Cambodia, her husband — my father, tortured and executed, losing my older brother to starvation and escaping to the refugee camps of Thailand where she found hope in the creation of a new family.
Getting sponsored to come to America, living in section 8 housing in some of the roughest neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Syracuse NY. Barely speaking English, working two jobs, taking care of four children and dealing with an abusive husband.
We found refuge again in Syracuse. A community that was rich with diversity, tolerance and faith. Families from different ethnicities, religions and cultures supporting each other and celebrating their differences together. Strangers knocking on our doors bearing gifts during the holidays. Boxes filled with new clothes and school supplies from the Salvation Army and local churches.
My mother’s best friend was from Ukraine, my childhood friend an African American, and our neighbor — a biker family that loved Bon Jovi, Harleys, beer and picnics, yes, I said picnics. Lodi and Butternut neighborhood was a melting pot of Italians, Vietnamese, Puerto Ricans, Hmong, Laos and Cambodians.
My mother eventually saved up to purchase her first home off of Bellevue. With help from the community, she found the courage to leave my abusive stepfather. As a single parent she raised 4 children, and watched all of us not only graduate high school but go on to finish college.
Today, I stand in front of you truly grateful for the love and support we received from this community. It is in Syracuse where a dyslexic son of a Cambodian refugee that barely graduated from Fowler High School went on to earn a doctorate and attend Harvard and Tulane University. Where a minority male, raised on welfare and living in a poverty-stricken environment, went on to become a college dean and a Fulbright Scholar. It is my mother’s resilience that gave me the courage and strength to reach my full potential.
It is easy for us to feel hopeless when we see the media. Images of crime, hate, poverty and jobs leaving our area. WE CANNOT ALLOW THIS NEGATIVE NEWS TO TRIUMPH.
There are hundreds of Syracuse residents that have similar stories. People that faced great adversity in life and overcame these challenges to become leaders. People that are now making a difference in their community. But we often don’t hear about these people and their accomplishments. They are the true “silent majority.”
Our city has a rich history of diversity and tolerance. A city that not only embraced change during challenging times, but was at the forefront of change — in economic reform, school policy, community development, law enforcement and in addressing public service needs.
But, Syracuse is not perfect. We have real problems that must be faced head on. These challenges may seem impossible, frightening and intimidating. This is why I encourage you to take action — not as individuals, but as a community. Get to know your neighbors, volunteer, network, join social justice groups and take action around a cause that matters. Create new friendships with people outside of your comfort zone and get organized.
Reinvest in your city and it will pay back dividends.
***Closing remarks given at Syracuse YWCA’s 2016 Day of Commitment to Eliminate Racism and Promote Diversity