This year marks the 100-year anniversary that my great grandfather first set foot on American soil. With World War I looming, he looked to escape Germany and build a life for himself in the United States. At 18-years-old he left his brothers and his parents and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in search of the American dream.
By the time he reached the port of New Orleans, America had entered the war against Germany, and he was arrested under suspicion of being an enemy alien. The United States was not allowing the entry of any Germans at the time.
He was subsequently held in internment camps in the Southeast for some time, but was eventually released to his aunt in Boston. He then worked and went to night school at Lowell Institute (MIT), where he would earn his degree in engineering. Later in life he would build great Victory ships for the Navy and helped build the facility in Oakridge, Tenn., where the atomic bombs that ended World War II were built.
As a country, we did everything we could not to let him in. We put him in prison and held him in internment camps. We held him without cause and violated his human rights.
Yet years later, he would help end World War II. The irony of the timing for his 100-year anniversary in America is not lost on me.
He died in 1984, and four years later, his first great grandson was born and named in his honor and memory, Hans.
Fast-forward to two weeks ago, Appen Media Group launched Blackbox, the investigative journalism arm of the media company. And while we are not immigrants trying to start a new life in America like so many others today, or like my great grandfather so many years ago, we, in our own way, are striving to do our part to contribute to the ongoing story that is America. That is our heritage, that defines our values, and that is our future.
I wrote a column detailing the structure and goals for Blackbox that you can read here: We give you, Blackbox.
This week, we publish its first work – a story detailing pay discrimination allegations at an Alpharetta company involving 185 female employees: LexisNexis to pay $1.2M after pay discrimination investigation.
We are now working on several other projects, but one that has captured our attention recently involves local families affected by the President’s travel ban.
Executive Editor Hatcher Hurd interviewed Imam Asad Khan at the Islamic Center of North Fulton and told him about what we are working on. He invited Hatcher and me to join him at a meeting at the Hamzah Islamic Center in Milton this Saturday where the organization CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) would be putting on a seminar for local Muslims on what the travel ban meant for the members of their mosques and what they needed to know about their rights as Americans. You can read Hatcher's summary of the event here: Immigration law explained to local Muslims
I was one of two white men in the room, and the subject matter that they were discussing – that they had to discuss – gave me chills.
In the event that a parent or a grandparent overseas needs your assistance what should you do?
Nothing. Stay here.
How long is this going to last?
We don’t know. Definitely weeks. Maybe months or even years.
If I am questioned by the FBI what should I say?
Tell them the truth, but call a lawyer if your rights are being infringed.
One thing in particular struck a nerve with me. CAIR’s Executive Director, Edward Ahmed Mitchell, wanted to make sure that the leaders of every mosque present were organizing “security committees” to make sure that their members could pray and attend services safely. My church has committees too; like communications, congregational care and finance. But we don’t have a committee to make sure our church grounds are safe and that our kids can play outside.
We don’t have to.
I simply cannot imagine the pain I would feel if my minister felt the need to gather his congregation in our sanctuary to talk about creating a security committee to protect the people coming to worship there.
Can you imagine your minister having that conversation with your congregation? In your sanctuary?
The last speaker, immigration attorney Hiba Ghalib of Kuck Immigration Partners, spoke about fears and emotions. She spoke about the fact that while emotions are high it is important to educate your neighbors and your coworkers on the truth about Islam. That while you may feel hate, you should show love. That while you may be shown confusion, you should show understanding and offer answers.
During what must be one of the most trying times for the Muslim community in America they are teaching their own to love thy neighbor.
A century ago, my great grandfather, and all of our ancestors, faced challenges like our Muslim community does today. I am glad he stayed the course. Our country is better off for it.