When Newman offered his Rotary Minute on Monday, there seemed to be a little less confidence in his voice than we usually expect. He told me later that he didn’t often share his personal story. We all know Newman as a successful businessman, a leader of this club and our district, and, indeed the community where he has served in many ways, often hand-in-hand with his wife, Ann-Louise.
Newman was the middle child in a family of five. His family immigrated to New York from India in 1985. Trying the slow down the brain drain, India was only allowing emigres to take $20 each with them when they left the country. So, the seven of them arrived with $140 to make their way in America. Newman’s dad was a high court judge in India but couldn’t practice law here and took a job on the New York subway as a conductor.
In his late teens, Newman assumed some of the responsibility for supporting the family and set out, with little luck, to find a job. When he figured out there were opportunities in data processing he studied and immersed himself in that field. An attractive young woman doing the hiring for a law firm in the city gave him a chance and hired him to do data entry, which was about as low as you could get in the data processing hierarchy. This same young woman later promised the management she would supervise him when she recommended him for another position that had opened up. As anyone who knows Newman would realize, he was all over it and later became the data processing equivalent of a hero, dumping an expensive purchased system and building its replacement. He and the young woman that hired him became good friends and eventually the couple we know so well today.
Apparently, there are enough people in this country who thought American had become a bad dream and found it so troubling that they elected a man who promised a massive wall on our southern border, a ban on Muslim immigrants and a more aggressive stance towards the rest of the world. Now the other half of the country is in awakening from a fitful sleep and seeing their nightmare unfold. Our tradition welcoming and being enriched by immigrants and our freedom to practice whatever religion we believe is being challenged. The invitation to share in the American dream inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, “give me your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,” is being questioned.
I’ve had a few Muslim clients over the years and, to tell you truth, I’ve found Baptists to be scarier. But I’m coming around since my daughter got involved with a local Baptist church. They have been working to resettle immigrant families here in Durham and were ready to welcome a Syrian family when this recent ban went in place. That family is now in limbo.
Thanks for sharing your story Newman, and for having the courage to live the Four Way Test and Rotary’s commitment to international good will and peace, in spite of your tough start in America.