Long Island immigrants grateful to have received, now give back
Zahid Syed, a Pakistani and the newly appointed Chairman of the Nassau County Human Rights Commission, and Mohammad Saleh, a Bangladeshi pharmacist, both had help to achieve their American Dreams.
A Jewish pharmacist and an Irish union man reached out generous hands, offering guidance or funds to achieve their goals.
In return the two give back to their communities what they themselves were given.
Syed and the Irish Samaritan
In August, Zahid Syed of East Meadow was appointed the new Chairman of the Nassau County Human Rights Commission by Nassau County Executive Edward Magano.
“I am the first you can say, the first south Asian or brown person to become chairman of the Human Rights Commission,” said Syed. “So it’s a title for me and it’s history also.”
That’s quite a long way from when Syed arrived in the U.S. after graduating with a degree in economics and politics from Karachi University in 1971.
For several years he worked a variety of jobs until he was hired by the Town of Hempstead Parks Department. When it came time for union elections, Syed ran for secretary/treasurer of his union local and won.
The president of the local, an Irishman named Kevin Lynch, then set about teaching Syed everything he knew about unions and politics.
“He is like my grandfather,” said Syed. “When I started in the 90s, our community was very new and people were very reluctant to get involved in the community and politics.”
But Lynch inspired Syed to inspire his community.
“He said, as a new American you need to be involved, you have to educate your community. That’s your duty.”
Since then Syed founded a local chapter of the South Asian-American Political Action Committee, served on boards for multiple labor and community organizations and received several honors from elected officials, civic groups and labor unions.
A Young Woman of Distinction
Syed lives with his wife Uzma, their son Ahsan, and their daughters, 16-year-old Nihan and 13-year-old Anusha.
The entire family is involved in philanthropy but little Anusha has distinguished herself organizing fundraisers and toy drives for disadvantaged children.
Asked whom Anusha gets her inspiration from, she replied: “From my mom and my dad and my sister. I’ve seen them do it, and I want to be a part of it.”
Anusha was recently awarded the “New York State Woman of Distinction Award,” a rare accomplishment for a girl of her age.
“She wants to be a politician, and I want to encourage her. I don’t want my daughter to feel the pain I felt when I came here,” said Syed.
“A good politician helps people around them help their community, so I want to do that to,” said Anusha.
Saleh and the Jewish Samaritan
Mohammed Saleh, 63, who owns four pharmacies in New York City and lives in Merrick, says he owes his success to a Jewish pharmacist, Eugene Bresnick.
“I would always consider him, after my parents, the one who contributed most to my life,” said Saleh. “I would always salute him and pray for him.”
When he was ready to retire, Bresnick wanted to pass on his pharmacy business to his son, but the son didn’t see himself as a pharmacist.
So instead, Bresnick sold his pharmacy inventory, which amounted to $75.0000 to Saleh for a mere $30.000.
“He was a stranger to me. I had just met him,” said Saleh.
Over the next six months, Bresnick taught Saleh the business.
“Financially he was very lenient with me. I was fortunate that way,” said Saleh.
Now Saleh gives back by being an active member of his community. He’s a former president of the Long Island Muslim Society and last month he was awarded their Make a Difference Award for his work with Muslim immigrants.
The Nassau County Office of Minority Affairs has awarded him the Asian Pacific Americans of Distinction Award and the Eastern Queens Democratic Club has named him Community Leader of the Year.
Saleh is about to retire from the pharmacy business due to back problems, but the pharmacies will stay in the family.
His daughter Irene is a pharmacist and his son Omar is in medical school. And his wife Nazma works in one of the pharmacies as well.
Reporter: Janne Louise Andersen
Copy Editor: Christal Roberts
Videos: Janne Louise Andersen
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