In pursuit of the formula for peace on Earth, our producer met up with a bright, energetic immigrant, who also happens to be co-founder of the “We Are All Brooklyn” community group. A prosperous entrepreneur, this person is now in the business of making dreams come true. Larry Clamage brings us the story of a man he’s dubbed, the “heart of Coney Island Avenue.”
TV report transcript
“My name is Mohammed Razvi. I would say I’m an American-Pakistani. I’m an American with Pakistani traits.”
Moe, as Mohammed Razvi prefers to be called, lives and works on Coney Island Avenue.
Born in Pakistan, Moe came to America with his parents, as a young boy. He says Pakistani’s are a family-centered people. Moe points to the fact that he and his wife and children and his four brothers and their families all still live close to their parents, on Coney Island Avenue.
“This is where I live now. And this store is my dad’s store. And it was the first store on this block that was ethnic. And it was just this store and the Mosque.”
Today, Moe, his parents and brothers jointly own convenience stores, restaurants, bookstores, and other successful businesses on Coney Island Avenue.
“For the Congressman, draft a letter.”
But, at the ripe old age of 33…
…Moe has already moved on from successful businessman to prominent community leader.
“I’m the Executive Director of Council of Pakistan Organization, COPO, which helps South-Asians to fulfill their dreams—their American dreams.”
“Coney Island Avenue… you can go from Russia, little Russia, all the way to little Pakistan, and stop over in little Israel right here. As the Pakistanis moved in, they opened up small mom-and-pop stores…and they started doing good.”
But, all that changed after the tragic terrorist acts of September 11, because everybody blamed the Pakistanis, says Moe.
“All of a sudden they’re leaving because they’re in fear…or they can’t find their father, or they can’t find their son, or they can’t find their cousin. It was devastating to me.”
After 9/11, in the mass confusion, the FBI and the INS started to roundup South-Asians; individuals whose names were Muslim and other individuals whose names were similar to other names they were looking for.
And as they rounded up these people, these innocent people, the family members of those individuals started running to stores, asking for help because they did not speak English. But, when they came to the stores, the storeowners didn’t know what to tell them.”
So, Moe set up his own community organization on Coney Island Avenue to meet these new challenges head-on.
“See, what happened was, individuals did not know about the legal system. They didn’t know that they could get free attorneys. They did not know how to…how do they set bail. So we started to help them. And we started holding legal clinics. And then, we realized that these individuals cannot advocate for themselves, because they could not speak English. They could not call the police station…anybody.”
“And it will be really nice for all your family members to come there…”
Moe and a few volunteers began to teach the Pakistani immigrants to speak English.
They also taught them how to use computers.
“They can e-mail, they can write letters, and they will have a skill if they want to work.”
Meanwhile, the need for these community services just kept growing.
“As we opened the doors, people came with other problems—how to get food stamps, how to get Medicaid. I need help with my child in school problems. Just so much other problems that people had, that we couldn’t close the doors.”
Soon, Moe’s long hours turned into long days, as he worked hard on behalf of others, for no pay.
“He’s being put into deportation proceedings now. But the thing is, they have a child.”
“I had residual income coming in, thank God.”
But, the money wouldn't last forever. The answer to Moe’s prayers…
…a most unlikely project volunteer, a foreign graduate student named Jagagit Singh, who just happened to be studying non-profit management at New York University.
“It was like, he opened this door. I did not know that this non-profit world existed. I did not know there were other foundations and organizations helping non-profits.”
“Everybody in this country is an immigrant…”
He taught Moe how to get financial grants from philanthropic organizations. Mr. Singh also goes by the name “Jay” since coming to America.
“Through a foundation, you know, we have some grants…”
“Jay is an Indian?
“Well, that’s the, you see, that the beauty of the United States. While Pakistan and India were about to go to war with each other, we united and we are helping the South-Asians together. Muslim and Hindu working together to better the community itself at large.”
“I’m here to inform you about your graduation…”
To date, Moe and Jay have helped over 4000 Pakistani immigrants, as well as immigrants of other nationalities, living on or near Coney Island Avenue.
“Some of you ladies are very nervous…
“I hope people understand that we are also against this, against these people, these terrorists. Because we all came in this country for the same reasons, for that dream, to fulfill that dream.”
“Invite all your family members…”