Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Monique Harris - A Great American Who's Saving "The Least of These"

If you ask Monique Harris how she came to found Southern Nevada Children First, she’ll give you two answers.  First, she’ll tell you that her entire life has prepared her for this role.  And second, she’ll tell you that when her dream for serving others was shattered by unexpected bureaucratic fiat, she turned that crisis over to God. He opened the door to a new way she could serve homeless and at-risk teen-aged girls – and their babies – rescuing them in ways she’d never even imaged were possible. 

However, she’ll also tell you that founding and leading Southern Nevada Children First was not what she had in mind for her life – not as a child growing up on the streets of Los Angeles, not as a single mom putting herself through college, and not as a young and inspired social worker looking to create a completely different way of helping people.

What she won’t tell you is that, while this was never what she imagined for her life’s work, she can’t imagine a more fulfilling path for herself, and for the hundreds of young girls – and their babies – who she’s already helped.

Monique Harris has an Associate’s Degree, a Bachelor’s Degree and a Masters of Social Work Degree.  Educationally, she has all the qualifications that a person in her position is expected to have.  However, few people realize that she was well into her adulthood – and that she was a single mother supporting herself and her two children – before she put her mind into earning those degrees and changing her life.

She grew up hard in the tough inner-city LA neighborhood of Inglewood.  However, she had two benefits many girls from her neighborhood never had. First, she grew up in a two-parent home – though her father was sometimes in jail – and after 61 years, her parents are still married.  But Monique also had another gift – a mother who was grounded in God’s Word, a woman of steadfast faith who did all she could to set Monique on the right path.  For more than a decade, her mother might have despaired that her efforts were “seeds that fell on rocky ground,” but in the end, it turned out that Monique had listened to her mother, deep in her soul where it really mattered.

Growing up, her father was very “street-oriented,” and while he did his best to shelter his wife and daughter from that life, Monique’s brothers were more or less brought into the “family business,” the in-the-streets way of life.  As a teen-ager, though she did finish high school, Monique decided that her father’s and brother’s lifestyle was more exciting than her mother’s. She got involved in a fast life, on the streets in the wrong neighborhood.  To her credit, she tried college, but it didn’t take.  She preferred street life, which included hanging out with guy who was to become her husband. It also included all the excitement and drama of being a “baby momma.”

She didn’t wait long for that last thrill.  By 19, she was pregnant, and by 20, she was a new bride.  But her life as a wife and mother didn’t turn out like a Walt Disney fairytale, and she’s still frustrated that it was only after she got married that she learned her husband was addicted to cocaine.  It took her years of marriage to finally conclude that his love for cocaine outweighed his love for his wife or his children.  That was a bitter pill to swallow.

Her second child, a daughter who only recently turned 15, was born when Monique was 25.  However, just a year later, after more than six years of trying to turn her husband around, she separated from him to protect her children, and herself.  Though separated, Monique and her husband stayed married for another five years, while she continued to try to turn him around. All during that time, she was a single mother, responsible for her kids, her mortgage note and her future.

With her husband gone, that future was suddenly very important to her.  She went back to college on her own dime, working two jobs and “doing hair” on the weekends to help make ends meet.  Against formidable odds, she finished her Associate degree in child development and her Bachelor’s degree in youth social work. Then she decided – with the final end of her marriage – that she needed a new perspective.  She sold her house in LA, moved to Las Vegas, and here she earned her Master’s Degree in Social Work – her MSW.

While still in college, Monique began working with homeless teens. She was quickly surprised to learn that most of these kids were not rebellious young punks who’d run away from home.  Instead, they were victims – usually of their own parents – parents who, in most cases, had actually driven their daughters out of the house and onto the streets.

While working on her Masters, Monique first ran into a population of girls – pregnant and parenting teen agers – who, because of fears of liability issues, nobody seemed to want to help.   With no one to help them, these victims remained on the streets, the prey of drug dealers, pimps, human traffickers and sexual slavers.  Las Vegas – where “everything has a price” and where “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” – was and remains a hotbed for the abuse of homeless teen-aged girls.

Monique couldn’t get those “babies having babies” out of her mind.  They were too close in experience to her own life, and her compassion for them was only matched by her understanding of the huge odds they faced.

Looking back on that, and considering what she does now, Monique sees their risk without blinders. 

On any given day in Clark County Nevada, there are more than 300 unaccompanied homeless kids,” she explained.  “Many of these victims are pregnant, or are already parenting their own babies.  Homeless, without someone to guide them, care for them or provide for them, they are extremely venerable to the lure of drugs and alcohol to numb their pain. They are also forced to participate in survival sex and prostitution, just to provide shelter, food and protection for themselves and their babies.  Many just choose to hide their situation from others, hoping it will go away.”

As she completed her MA, she saw this situation for what it is – not in the depth of understanding she has today, but she saw it clearly enough to know that she wanted to do something to make a difference in these at-risk young girls’ lives.

Her career path, following her MA, was drawn toward helping at-risk populations, though not specifically young girls.  This changed when she connected with another lady in the community, who was conducting a pilot program to pull at least a couple of kids’ lives together, starting by giving them a place to live. 

With her strong academic bent, and with her remarkable organizational skills, Monique was more about policies and procedures than about hands-on helping these kids.  As she helped her new friend, he’d already decided on her life’s work – creating and managing a Foster Care agency focused on troubled teens. 

All she needed was Clark County’s certification of her Foster Care agency, and she’d be ready to go.

While she waited on Clark County, she began helping her new friend, who was all about helping at-risk kids. However, she had little money and no useful organizational skills.  What she did have was a house that she shared with several at-risk girls, where she served as a kind of “den mother” or “big sister” to the girls she was helping. Soon she and Monique realized that each complemented the other. Together, they set out to help at least some of these kids.  Monique turned to fund-raising and organizational management, while her partner focused on actually hands-on helping these at-risk kids.

After three months, thanks to Monique’s fund-raising skills, they had three houses filled with girls, and their babies.  But at that point, with no warning, Monique’s partner bailed.  The pressures just became too much for her.  She just up and moved back to wherever it was that she came from, abandoning the kids and leaving Monique with all the bills, but with no program. She also left Monique with three houses filled with girls and their babies.

Doing her best to network for solutions, Monique quickly placed all but three girls with other appropriate housing. 

Then, her compassion trumping any potential liability issues, she took those three still-homeless girls into her home – a home that already housed her own two children.  It was a big risk in many ways, but it worked. 

Remarkably, one of these three girls remembered her new savior, from a time when Monique had worked for a service agency.  This girl was a mother at sixteen – her baby’s father was her own mother’s boyfriend.  While her mom took her baby to raise, she kicked her own daughter out. 

Living on the streets, this girl was forced into prostitution. Then – having already been an unwed mother and a street-walker, she’d been kicked back onto the streets by her pimp because her feet bled so badly that she could no longer “walk the street.” 

Desperate, that scared little girl – who should have been worrying about prom dresses instead of survival – had gone to a “Safe Place” business location. Then, because it was part of her job at that time, Monique was called in.   She “rescued” that girl from the Safe Place and brought her to sheltered place to live during that moment of crisis. 

While Monique hadn’t remembered this particular girl, this girl remembered her “Angel.” 

Three weeks after taking these girls into her home, Monique got the letter she’d been waiting for.  However, instead of approving her Foster Care agency, Clark County had turned down her request.  They said she could be a Foster Care mom, but despite her training and organizational skills, she could not run a new Foster Care organization.  This was a stunning, callous reversal that shattered her dreams and destroyed the life-plans she’d so carefully crafted.

Devastated, and after a week of unimaginable turmoil, Monique turned this situation over to God. 

“You don’t want me to follow this path,” she told God, “but you want me to do something else.” 

Trusting that her answer would come, Monique took a frightening leap of faith – she put her entire $10,000 retirement fund into a bank account, waiting on God to show her where to put it to work helping others.   

The rest, as they say, is history.

Starting in 2007 with her $10,000 retirement fund as seed money, Monique Harris built an organization to rescue homeless young girls and their babies that, in 2013, was funded at the $1.5 million dollar level.  Because of Nevada’s 2001 “Right to Shelter Law,” the state helped to fund services to homeless kids – and their babies, providing some foundational funding. However, it took all of Monique’s skills and determination to seek out additional funding – not easy for a new non-profit, especially during the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, but she managed.

“I know why God led me in this direction,” she explains.  “The household environment I grew up in.  My father was in and out of jail, and currently, he’s on probation – in all those years, he still hasn’t turned his life around.  We lived in a world of drugs, violence, and sexual abuse, and while he tried to protect me, the siren song of the street was too strong, at least at first.

“With him as my role model, I grew up hard on the streets. I’ve been there, and I know what life on the streets can be life.  This is why I understand the girls – I have lived the life they do now. The only difference between me and the girls my organization rescues is that in my home, I had a support system – my mother. 

“A strong woman with a strong faith, she’s grounded in the Word, and has lived her life with a strong relationship with God.  As a child, she had been abused and neglected, and as she grew up, she swore she’d never do that to her kids.  That commitment is what saved me from a path with no good ending.

“My mother’s love and example helped me to develop a nurturing spirit.  I know the value of a support system, and that’s why I created Southern Nevada Children First.” 

The Facts and Stats
Monique Harris holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work, focusing on the Non-Profit Sector, as well as a Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW). She also holds several professional certifications, including:

·      Youth Agency Administration
·      Model Approaches to Partnership and Parenting
·      Parent Resources for Information Development and Education

For more than 17 years, she has worked for organizations, in many roles, but all providing services to underserved and disadvantaged populations.  She continues to work closely with Children and Family Services, acting as a Foster Parent, a Child and Family Advocate, and a Community Liaison.

Her professional experiences also included providing wraparound services, case management, community outreach and mentoring. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Great American - Founder of Great American Business

 A Titan of the PR Field - A Man Who Put Ethics Into PR - Was a Great American
By Ned Barnett

This blog was originally published in the trade journal PR News
as a memorial to a great man

Daniel J. Edelman, founder of one of the world’s largest PR agencies, died on January 15, 2013 at age 92. He left a profound legacy for our industry, among his clients, employees—and even among his competitors.

I never met Daniel Edelman, but I competed against him for clients, and—by doing so—I learned a number of valuable lessons. We went head-to-head for clients when I was a partner with America’s largest healthcare-only agency; and again, when I was an exec with the Silicon Valley subsidiary of Fleishman-Hillard. I always made it a point to “know” the competition, and through time, I came to feel as if I knew the man.

Here are some of Daniel Edelman’s lessons. They’ve never let me down.

  1. Integrity: Daniel Edelman was known for integrity. In our business, which many feel is lacking in that essential commodity, he demonstrated that integrity was not only the “right thing to do,” it was also a sound business investment. The first time I went up against his agency, my biggest initial challenge involved proving that my agency had the same high standards of integrity that Edelman was known for.

  2. Involvement: In trying to land Edelman clients, or when trying to out-compete Edelman for prospective clients, I learned very quickly that Daniel Edelman knew the value of personal involvement. No matter how big Edelman had become, he was not “too important” to meet face-to-face with clients or prospects, even ones who weren’t (yet) Fortune 500 clients. He had name-brand recognition, to be sure, but he brought more than his name to those meetings, including a keen creative insight which never failed to impress clients and prospects.

  3. Bottom-Line Creativity: I never saw an Edelman PR campaign that didn’t reflect the distinctive bottom-line strategic and tactical creativity that Daniel Edelman and his company brought to the table. In my experience, he never focused on ephemeral measurements, such as Ad Equivalency, when he could instead point to sales or other more substantive business measurements.

  4. Billing: In addition to serving his clients, Daniel Edelman knew how to create profit for himself, as well as his clients. For instance, while he often met with his clients—generally for strategic creative sessions where his immense expertise added real value—he never traveled alone. He brought his team of senior agency execs, men and women who understood the client’s needs, and each of them legitimately billed for their time. Until I first tried to wrest a client from his agency, I’d never heard of a thousand-dollar-an-hour meeting. Yet the Edelman clients I knew had no qualms about this seemingly astronomic figure, because they always received real and perceived value from these meetings. Following his example, I now bring my team, rather than trying to represent them, and I’ve found that my clients also appreciate this added depth this.
Bottom line: Daniel J. Edelman is gone, but his legacy will continue to shape the PR field in ways that go far beyond the agency he created. 

Three Great Americans and the Mexican War

Sam Colt, Eli Whitney, Captain Sam Walker - Three Great Americans Create A War-Winning New Technology - And Change History

By Ned Barnett

Three Great Americans - strangers to one another - came together to create a new technology which helped America win a war ... and to change history.  In the process, they  also pioneered a new approach to creating weapons of war for the US Military that remains successful to this day - helping to preserve our Freedom and the American Way of Life.  
It's a fascinating story ...

As he was preparing to retire from public life, President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned America against the growing power and influence of the “Military-Industrial Complex.” As the General of the Army who defeated Hitler and oversaw the creation of NATO, then as the President who faced down the newly nuclear-armed Soviets for eight long years, Ike knew something about the Military-Industrial Complex.

However, most of his audience – the American people – assumed that this Military-Industrial Complex was something new, and dangerous. After all, that’s what the 50s were about – things that were new, and dangerous. H-Bombs. Sputnik. Polaris submarines. Jet bombers and ICBMs. All new, all dangerous.

In fact, the Military-Industrial Complex began more than 100 years before Eisenhower was elected President, and indirectly, we owe this all to a man more famous for inventing the cotton gin, Eli Whitney – and more directly, to a former Texas Ranger.  We also owe it to the man for whom it was written, "God Made Man, But Sam Colt Made Men Equal."

As a young man, Eli Whitney came up with the idea of manufacturing interchangeable parts, and applied that to the production of muskets for the U.S. Army. Before Whitney’s innovation, muskets were hand-made. When a part broke, a skilled gunsmith had to make and carefully fit a replacement part. Whitney changed all that – and started the idea of a production line, which was perfected a century later by Henry Ford.

Whitney died in 1820, but he left a legacy of innovation and a family interest in the manufacture of precision firearms. In this way, he laid the groundwork for the salvation of a bankrupt inventor, and the creation of what we now know as the Military Industrial Complex.

In the early 1830s, inventor Samuel Colt perfected the first practical revolver – a five-shot weapon named the Paterson, after the town in New Jersey where Colt made these handguns. They first became popular in the mid-1830s when US officers fighting in the Seminole War in Florida bought them to replace cumbersome Army-issued single-shot muzzle-loading pistols that were little different from what George Washington had used 60 years before.

It wasn’t long after the Seminole war before the Colt Paterson was adopted by the Texas Rangers – not officially, but again, individual Rangers gladly bought them out of pocket. They knew it was worth a man’s life to have firepower close at hand, and a brace of Colt’s revolvers could replace ten single-shot pistols. 
In 1844, in what became the legendary Hays Fight, a skirmish that included Seminole War veteran Samuel H. Walker, 15 Texas Rangers defeated an 80-warrior Comanche War Party in a stand-up fight – in Walker’s words, “… killing & wounding about half of them. With improvements, I think the Colt revolvers can be rendered the most perfect weapon in the world.”

When the Mexican War broke out two years later, Walker was mustered into the Army as a Captain, and set out to recruit a unit of Dragoons – men who rode into combat on horseback, but who – unlike the cavalry, who fought on horseback – dismounted to fight. Having carried his personal Paterson Colt into war in Florida and into countless skirmishes in Texas, Captain Walker wanted his men to be armed with this new innovation. Walker scoured the countryside for privately owned Paterson Colts – there were few to be had – and he also contacted their inventor, Sam Colt, asking for more. But in 1842, Sam Colt had gone belly-up. He’d never stopped designing improvements for his Paterson Colt, but having seen his company go into bankruptcy, he was in no position to manufacture them.

A little thing like bankruptcy wasn’t about to stop Captain Walker, however, and Colt was more than happy to encourage him. Still, there was this little problem of no money – and no factory.

Enter Eli Whitney, Jr., son of the inventor of the cotton gin and the first man to mass-produce firearms. For “a consideration,” Whitney agreed to front Colt the money to get him back into business.  He also agreed to provide Colt a corner of Whitney’s factory production line in Whitneyville, Connecticut. That line was busy making muskets for the Army – there was, after all, a war on – but the factory was not too busy to also manufacture Colt’s revolvers. So the famous “Whitneyville-Walker Colt – officially the US Model 1847 – was born. This was the first repeating handgun purchased by Army Ordnance, and it was revolutionary. In the years to come, Colt kept instituting improvements, until – by 1860 – his Army revolver had become the standard U.S. Army sidearm, one widely used by both sides in the US Civil War.

The Whitneyville Walker Colt,known to the Army as the Model 1847, was a massive handgun – the largest ever made for the US Army.  It tipped the scales at 4 pounds, 9 ounces. This revolutionary revolver was a five-shot weapon that fired a .44 caliber lead ball, propelled by 220 grains of black powder. It had a mule-kick that even “Dirty Harry” would love. A contemporary Army report on a test of the Colt revolver said that the Model 1847 was “as effective as a common rifle at one hundred yards, and superior to a musket even at two hundred.” This was at a time when the standard military musket was never fired at ranges beyond 60 yards, and then only in volleys, since muskets - which lacked rifling - could not be aimed – at any range.

The government ordered 1,000 of Colt’s Model 1847 at $25 a revolver, plus another $3 for matching powder flasks. Colt actually made 1,100 of these handguns, using the other 100 as VIP gifts. These were presented to the President, senior members of Congress, the Secretary of War and other influential men of the times. Colt knew how to keep the orders coming – and except for laxer laws about gifts to officials, he did nothing different than today’s K-Street bandits do every day of the week for their MIC clients.

Here’s how these remarkably innovative Model 1847s worked in combat. A unit of Dragoons – roughly 100 men – would ride on horseback up to within roughly 100 yards of a Mexican Army unit, then dismount. That 100-yard distance was the effective aimed-fire range of the Whitneyville-Walker Colt. The force they’d attack, a Mexican Army Regiment - would be generally from five to ten times as large as the Dragoon unit, roughly 500 to 1,000 well-trained and courageous Mexican soldiers. 
These enemies were a formidable force, since at that time, the Mexican Army was world-class in every respect. It was a classic “Napoleonic” army of hard-marching, hard-fighting professional soldiers, trained up in the traditional European “continental” system of fighting. However, the Mexican Army had one critical drawback – one shared with all armies of the time. They used a smooth-bore musket with an effective range of just 60 yards – and at that range, these muskets couldn’t be aimed, but only volley-fired.

However, the Colt could accurately fire aimed shots out to 100 yards. Approaching the enemy, the dismounted Dragoons would take careful aim and fire five quick shots per revolver, then mount up and withdraw – and reload. Since Dragoons often carried two revolvers per man, this meant they could loose 10 aimed shots in a matter of seconds. But because the Mexicans were out of range for their own weapons, those brave soldiers could either “take it,” or they could fix bayonets and charge, hoping to cross 40 yards of ground, then form up and volley-fire before the Americans pulled back. They were brave, and they usually charged – however, in full gear, they could never charge fast enough to catch the Americans.

To reload the Whitneyville-Walker Colt, the entire cylinder could be easily removed from the gun’s frame. This meant – if the Dragoons had several pre-loaded cylinders per revolver – that the entire unit could reload their two-per-man weapons in about a minute, then ride back into battle. However, reloading the five cylinders took a trained man less than two minutes, so either way, they'd soon be back in the fight.  Again, they’d stop 100 yards out from the winded and increasingly demoralized Mexican soldiers, fire their quick five or 10 rounds of aimed fire, then again withdraw to reload their cylinders. As long as their powder and cast-lead bullets held out, those Dragoons could keep this up indefinitely – without risk of injury to themselves – but with deadly impact on the Mexican soldiers.

That is why Captain Walker so desperately wanted those Colt revolvers for his Dragoons. These five-shot revolvers were the first example of firepower being used as a “force multiplier” – a common concept today, but one totally unknown before 1846.

This revolutionary weapon was only possible because three strangers came together for a common cause.  Eli Whitney Jr. continued his father's course as an inventor and industrialist, a pioneer in manufacturing of goods both civil and military.  And Sam Colt went on to lead a revolution in what both soldiers and civilians could do to protect themselves from the hostility of others.
However, there’s a sad footnote to this story: Captain Sam Walker died in combat before the revolver that bore his name could be delivered to his unit. Yet Captain Walker lived long enough to create a dual legacy – he re-launched Colt Patent Firearms Company, which still makes precision firearms for the US Army today, and he served as midwife to the birth of the Military-Industrial Complex. 
And despite President Eisenhower's sage warning, this ability of Americans to produce the weapons they need won for us the Cold War, and allows us to remain as the sole world superpower, a force for good around the world.

Dr. Soheila Rostami – Great American Success Story

 A Refugee From Oppression Is a Role Model For the American Dream
 By Ned Barnett

America is a nation of immigrants, a nation built by people who fled oppression – political, economic, religious, ethnic or social – and came to America to build a new and better life … and along the way, to help build a newer and better America.

Our nation traces its colonial roots first to the Pilgrims who fled religious oppression to come to America, and carve a new country out of the wilderness.  In turn, they were followed by others who came here to escape religious or economic conditions in their homeland that kept them from creating the kind of life they’d dreamed of.  Catholics fled from Protestant England to help create the Maryland colony. Quakers fled the established Church of England to help found Pennsylvania.  Huguenots fled Catholic France to help create then-Dutch New Amsterdam (now New York) and New Jersey, and then a half-dozen other colonies.  Economic prisoners fled debtors’ prison to help create the Georgia colony.

This tradition remained strong after the Revolution, as new waves of refugee immigrants came to America, fleeing political, religious, ethnic or economic oppression from all over Europe, and then later from Asia.  Following each of the world wars of the 20th century, oppressed minorities migrated to America to create a new life.  Jews fleeing pogroms of the late 19th century, and the aftermath of Hitler’s “Final Solution” flocked to America, as did those who fled Communist oppression beginning with White Russians and continuing until the fall of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact – and they continue to flee from Cuba to this day.

This is a tribute to a more recent fugitive from oppression, a remarkable woman – Dr. Soheila Rostami – who, as a teen-aged girl, risked everything she had, including her life, to flee her country. She came to an America still suspicious of “Iranians,” seeking only the right to pursue a higher education, and the right to build a life based on freedom for her, and for the children she planned to have one day. 

While all refugees face hardships, few faced more difficulty than those fleeing from religious and social oppression in the Iran of the Ayatollahs.

Those like this young woman, refugees coming to America from Iran, took greater risks, and faced stiffer obstacles, than other refugees.  Free-thinking Iranians – those who chose to try and escape the oppression of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his Islamic extremists – the strict and fanatical Islamic fundamentalists who replaced the Shah of Iran in the late 70s – not only had to find a way of escaping a country sunk into oppression and fighting a bloody war to the death with neighboring Iraq, but they had to come to a country which wasn’t always welcoming them. 

America had first abandoned the Shah – opening the door to Khomeini’s revolution – then suffered humiliation during the 444-day embassy hostage ordeal.  That crisis created ignorance, anger, humiliation and fear among Americans that unfairly raised our collective suspicions about all Iranians. 

For that reason, many Iranian refugees insisted on being called Persians, just to remove the “taint” of being known as Iranians in their new adopted country.

First, getting out wasn’t easy.  In the years after the fall of the Shah and the rise of Khomeini and the Mullahs, Iran was largely surrounded by countries that did not welcome refugees.  The Soviet Union wanted nothing to do with people seeking freedom. Pakistan and Afghanistan were Islamic nations, largely supportive of the new Iranian leadership.  Iraq was at war with Iran, and that border was not only closed, but the site of warfare that killed millions on both sides.  Only Turkey seemed to offer a safe haven, but getting to that nation’s remote border, and then safely crossing the border, were both daunting challenges. 

It took a great desire for freedom, or a great fear of oppression, to risk Turkey.

Yet that is exactly what one young Iranian woman, Soheila Rostami, did, once it became clear that she would be denied both an education and even basic human rights, primarily because she was a young woman, and “too politically active.”  During the reign of the Shah, she attended private schools that mixed her education between English and Farsi.   However, the revolution occurred while she was in middle school, and while she was in high school, and despite her consistent top-of-her-class grades, it became clear that her desire to go to university was to be blocked, because of her religious beliefs, her ideology and gender – along with her belief that education should not be denied to girls.

With the help of her supportive parents, she fled Iran for Turkey, thinking she’d go to college in Turkey.  Airports were closed because of the war, and the road to Turkey was long, and dangerous.  Yet the danger of the trip was less than she feared the danger of staying might be.

In Turkey, she was lucky – it was akin to winning the lottery – and she obtained a student visa to come to America to study.  With that came the requirement that, to stay in the country, she had to stay in school, which raised the issue of Finance, and the near-impossibility of bringing funds out of Iran.  However, she was offered a series of scholarships to Howard University in Washington, based on her grades, which were exceptional.  This took her through her undergraduate years as well as her Medical School.   In 1992, scholarships for students here in America on student visas became a political football, and – in compliance with changing regulations – she was only able to receive a half-scholarship, which meant she had to support herself while going to Medical School – an difficult burden, but one she was able to overcome. 

Following medical school, she received internships at Washington Hospital and at Howard, followed by a University of Maryland Fellowship.  During her residency, she not only scored top marks again, but during her term as Chief Resident, she also gave birth to her son, Armon – she became a mother during her last week of Residency, proving again that she had remarkable talents to do what others deemed arduous.

Continuing with her work in medicine, she first received her “green” card, allowing her to remain in the country, and then to eventually become an American citizen.  Along the way, she discovered that, while she loves the land of her birth (though neither its leaders, nor their intense focus on fundamentalist Islam), she loves America far more. 

“It’s a wonderful country,” she says, “because of its freedom of speech and its freedom of ideology.”

To those who take America for granted, she says, “You don’t know what you have. Be happy for what you have – it’s wonderful to be here, with no gun to your head telling you what to do, or what to believe.  But,” she adds, “You have to keep it that way.”

She knows, because her birth-country once had those freedoms.  “It is easy to lose those freedoms,” she says, from experience.

While she’s proud to be an American, she has neither turned her back on her native country, nor its people.  She is on the board of a group, “Children of Persia,” which helps children in both America and in Iran.  Despite the embargoes against trading with Iran, those bans do not include humanitarian medical aid to the children of Iran.  Her group has a license from the U.S. government to provide that aid, which has helped to build, open and operate a children’s hospital in an impoverished part Iran. 

“Helping children in poverty is not ‘helping the enemy,’ and the U.S. government agrees with and supports our efforts to help children in need,” she explained. 

She also works with another organization, one dedicated to helping girls in Iran between the ages of 13 and 21, “girls who are helpless and who have been taken advantage of.”

She believes that women are the key to transforming the Middle East into modern and open cultures.  Right now, in Iran, “half the population there is treated like animals – it’s unbelievable to Americans raised in freedom and equality, but it’s true.  You have to wonder why the men do this – why they don’t have respect for their own wives, their own daughters.”

The Middle Class still care about their daughters, but they’re leaving Iran, or being forced out of the middle class.  The Working Class – who have been brainwashed by the government – don’t have the same attitude toward their daughters, which is troubling and puzzling to Dr. Rostami.

“We in Iran used to have the most advanced culture in the Middle East. We had women judges, women doctors, women in parliament.  However, little by little, women have been limited by what they’re allowed to do, and their rights are evaporating.

For instance, under the Islamic government, it takes the testimony of two women to “prove” facts in court, but it only takes the testimony of one man to prove the same thing.  So an assault against a woman must be witnessed by another woman – who is brave enough to testify to that fact – before any justice can be given. 

“Women in Iran still fight for their rights – but it’s an uphill fight against a downhill slide for the country.”  This is why Dr. Rostami works with causes that help those helpless girls and young women in Iran.

She and her husband and her two sons are a tight family.  “We are trying to create a ‘community center’ within our family, to show our children their heritage and their culture.  We wanted them to learn Farsi – our oldest son has learned to speak but not read Farsi, but not our youngest son.  Our sons right now are more interested in being Americans.  They face the problems faced by millions of first generation immigrants, such as acceptance by society, and “being American” helps them with that.”

As an American who’s proud of his own immigrant roots, and who is proud of a country that welcomes refugees yearning for freedom, I am proud to know Dr. Soheila Rostami, and I offer her example to all those who value America’s freedoms too lightly.