A Discussion with Emad Rahim, Assistant Dean of Business at Strayer University
April 28, 2014
Background: Emad Rahim is a speaker, educator, and entrepreneur. He was born in the killing fields of Cambodia, and was brought to America by his mother. Raised in the poorest neighborhoods of Brooklyn and upstate New York, he faced economic hardship, abuse, and a learning disability, eventually overcoming these hurdles to convert to Islam and become an entrepreneur. The shadow of the Cambodian genocide loomed large over Rahim’s upbringing, and he discovered only as a teenager that his birth father had been killed by the Khmer Rouge. Despite academic difficulties, Rahim eventually went on to work as a social worker, earn a doctorate, and start a consulting firm for non-profits and small businesses. He now serves as assistant dean of business at Strayer University, entrepreneur-in-residence at Oklahoma State University, and as a visiting scholar at Rutgers University. In describing his life, Rahim notes the strong commitments he retains to Islam and the strength his faith has given him to serve and inspire those in his surrounding community, his family in Cambodia, and especially young people. This discussion with Nava Friedman took place during Rahim’s April 2014 visit to Washington, D.C. to serve as a speaker at a WFDD and Berkley Center event on faith and social entrepreneurship.
Can you descibe your upbringing and how you came to the work you do today?
In 2008, I received a very important phone call from a guy named Kyle Bass who worked for Syracuse Stage, which is the largest professional theater in Syracuse, New York. He called because they were looking to develop a unique play based on a few local residents’ personal stories, and he thought that my experience and what I went through would be a perfect fit for the production. I initially thought it was a hoax. But I came to Syracuse Stage, and I met a play director and writer by the name of Ping Chong and his associate, Sara Zatz. I soon came to realize that Chong was a celebrated playwright, an award-winning director and writer, and had done things on Broadway. He started interviewing me but the interview became very aggressive, like I was on CSI or Law and Order. Then he asked about my father and I started crying uncontrollably. I knew so little about my father. Every time he asked a question and I didn’t know the answer, I just cried even more as I realized how much of a gap I had about my history and how little I knew about my father. He told me that he thought my story was very powerful, and he wanted me to do a little research.
That’s when I came to learn a little more about my history and my background. Speaking to my mother, and other relatives, I found out that I was born in a concentration camp in the killing fields of Cambodia. On the day that I was born, my father was being tortured, and he was eventually executed. I had an older brother who would have been a few years older than me, if he was still alive. He died of starvation and illness in my mother’s arms. She can vividly remember holding him as he passed away. He was very skinny, very malnourished and sick. My family feared that if they remained in the camp, which was run by the Khmer Rouge, they would eventually be killed like everybody else. There was a lot of information being passed among the concentration camps that they were killing people rapidly to get rid of evidence. The war had already ended (it was 1978) but the concentration camps were in the middle of nowhere, very isolated in the jungle, and they didn’t get the news. Also, many of them were fighting amongst each other for leadership roles. The Khmer Rouge became increasingly paranoid. They were killing each other. They were afraid that there were spies in the camps. They were also afraid that the Vietnamese were coming and taking over. This led to an increase in executions of people in the concentration camp.
After two years in the concentration camp, my mother and a group of people decided that they needed to run away and take their chances. The day before my mother and her friends decided to leave the concentration camp, my mother heard that they were going to execute my father that very day. She snuck out, went looking for his hut, and found it, and when she saw him, she didn’t recognize him because he had been beaten so badly. He was skinny and had dried blood all over him. He didn’t have any shirt, his pants were all ripped. He didn’t recognize her because he had gone crazy. After speaking to her for a while, he asked how I was doing. He wanted to know about his son. He knew that his other son had died, and he wanted to know if I was okay. My mother told him that I was fine. He smiled and looked away and drifted off. That was the last time she saw him.
How did your mother escape the concentration camp with you?
After that, my mother and a group of people decided that they were going to escape to Thailand. They were going to walk through the jungle. It took several days. My mother told me that during that trip I was the only child, the only baby, and I was crying a lot. They were afraid that I would be the one that would cause the Khmer Rouge to find us. Some nights my mother almost suffocated me to death trying to stop me from crying. That’s something that was very emotional for me to hear, her telling me that she would suffocate me to save the rest of the camp. She also told me that during the escape a lady stepped on a land mine. It was very dangerous. At night they heard footsteps and whisperings so they knew the Khmer Rouge was not that far from them. Several days into the escape, I got really sick. People thought I had died. I was extremely pale, I had diarrhea, I was not responsive. The people with my mother even asked her to leave me behind. They told her that she was carrying a dead baby, that she was crazy, that I was already dead. But she had already lost a child, and she had already lost a husband, so she refused. She said that even if I was dead she would make sure that I would reach the camp. By a miracle, an older gentleman found some roots in the jungle, and he knew what to do to make some medicine. I got my color back and began responding again. Eventually we ended up reaching the refugee camp in Thailand. We thought this was our savior, and everything was going to be better. Those camps were lawless though. There were no police officers. This was on the border of Thailand, so you had police officers that would prevent people from entering. No one was protecting people within the camp. People were taken advantage of. You had kids being stolen, raped. It was not a nice place to be.
How did you and your mother cope in the camp?
My mother ended up meeting my stepfather at the camp and adopted the boy who became my “uncle”—he was a teenager at the time and spoke English pretty well. They also adopted a girl who became my older “sister.” Many younger people didn’t have parents and in order to get sponsored to leave, it was better to have a large family. So you had a lot of Cambodians with adopted kids who didn’t have parents, as it increased the possibility of being sponsored to come to America or Europe. Especially if you could get someone who is a teenager, like my uncle who spoke English, that only made the possibilities stronger. And it helped if you had little kids. In the concentration camp my mother also gave birth to a child with my stepfather, my little sister. After several years in the camp we were finally sponsored to come to America through Catholic Charities.
How did moving to the U.S. change things for you and your family? Did you find it to be a place of refuge?
When we arrived, we were bounced around from Long Beach to upstate New York and then to Brooklyn. Brooklyn was a war zone itself in the 1980s. The neighborhood we lived in was low-income, Section 8 housing, lots of drugs. This was during the height of the crack epidemic. The early '80s was when crack was at the strongest. There were stabbings, drive-by shootings. It was not uncommon to go to school and have friends one day, and the next day they’re gone.
When I was 6, I was at a block party and a fight broke out. I got caught in the crossfire of the shooting and was shot in the leg. I did not even realize it was happening. I heard a loud bang, and I started running and ran into the hallway of this building and found a Puerto Rican man who started speaking Spanish, and who pointed at my leg, and I looked down and my leg was full of blood. I felt this very dark feeling and this burning smell. I was covered in gunpowder and once I saw my leg and felt the pain, I fainted and blacked out. I woke up looking at the sky as people were trying to put me into a cab. They eventually got me into a cab, but then there was an argument with the cab driver. We found out that the cab driver wanted money. One of the guys shoved a wad of cash at him, and the cab took off, and I blacked out again. When I woke up, there was a guy next to me holding his stomach, and it was full of blood. I looked at him, looked out the window, and blacked out again. When I woke again, I was being held down by medical staff. I remember they had an argument as to whether or not to give me pain medication, because they had no medical history on me, what I was allergic to, etc. So they decided not to give me pain medication while they stitched me up—no Novocain, nothing. I blacked out because the pain was so bad. When I next woke, my mom was standing over me and crying, very upset, and that is when she decided to leave Brooklyn. We moved to Syracuse, upstate New York. There, though, we didn’t live in the best place—even Syracuse had ghettos. We lived in the projects.
What was your relationship with your mother and stepfather like?
My mother and stepfather used to get into a lot of fights. He was a very abusive man. Sometimes the fights got so bad the police came, neighbors would call the police. It got so bad that I moved out, and for almost a week and a half I lived on the streets. I would sleep on park benches, sometimes crashing on a friend’s couch. Sometimes I just walked at night. Eventually, my older adopted sister found me and asked me to come stay with her. She was already married at the time, and my uncle lived next door. I stayed with them for about a year and things got better. But after a year, something happened. Me, my sister, her husband, and my uncle were having dinner, and we got into a fight and I cursed at my uncle. He told me that I had no respect for my elders because I was a bastard. I did not know at the time that my stepfather was not my biological father. I did not know that my biological father had died in Cambodia. I remember being very angry and confused, upset, sad, a roller coaster of emotions, and I knew I couldn’t stay with my sister anymore after knowing that information, and I couldn’t be around my uncle. I called my mother up and told her that I was willing to come home if she would let me come back, and she did.
During your youth in the U.S., what saved you from various surrounding bad influences?
In high school I struggled. I was a troublemaker and got into a lot of fights. I was involved in gangs and sold drugs for a period of time. I had a learning disability (undiagnosed at the time) so I was also a few grades behind. When I was in tenth grade my student advisor told me that there was no way I was going to graduate, that I should pursue my GED. Although I’d never thought about it, I knew education was really important to me, even though I never took it seriously at the time. I thought I would be able to do it in two years. Yet here she was telling me that I did not have a chance, and should pursue my GED. She was really saying, ‘we don’t want you in this school. You’re a troublemaker.’ I got very angry and upset, and I felt like I didn’t have control over this situation. I felt lost, standing in the hallway ready to fight with any kid that came up to me.
One of the administrators, by the name of William Dardell, saw me and knew I was up to no good. He was this big, black muscular guy. Like Morgan Freeman with more muscle. He pulled me aside and told me that I should tell him what was wrong. I said nothing. He told me not to do something I shouldn’t do. I told him I just came back from the student advisor who told me I was failing, that I had no time left. I felt like the school was giving up on me. He told me that if I was serious about graduating, he could help me. He said I had to be serious about it. He took me downstairs to a room, introduced me to a bunch of people in this room that I didn’t even know existed called the Occupational Learning Center. It was a program that focused on teaching general education—math, science, English, and social studies, and you spent half the day learning those things. The rest of the day you spend in vocational school and learn a trade. This was something I never heard of.
Every day, Will Dardell made sure that I went to this program, and after I was done he brought me back across the city. He made sure that I was doing it, and when I was frustrated he would leave his door open so I could stay in his room. He became my father figure. He would show up at my house to make sure I was okay if I missed school. He would call. He took me to programs and after school events.
Do you have any particular examples of how this man, who became a father figure, affected your life?
When I was in eleventh grade there was a huge riot between the Puerto Ricans and the black kids in high school. I was stuck in the middle because I was this ambiguous little kid. No one could tell what I was. I was on both sides of this dialogue. I got invited to the conversation with the Puerto Rican kids, and they would accept me. Then I had the same conversation with the black kids. In this back and forth dialogue, Will Dardell asked a very important question, trying to educate us on violence and community. He asked us if we knew when drug dealers made the most money. I was proud to say I knew the answer, it was easy. I answered saying that it was the first of the month. He just looked at me with the most disgusted look, like he was not proud that I knew the answer. He goes, ‘why the first of the month?’ I said because that’s when people get their welfare checks. They’re going to spend all their welfare money on drugs. He asked me if I liked kids. I said where does this question come from? He said, ‘do you like kids, do you like little kids?’ I said ‘yes, I like kids, why do you ask?’ He asked if I ever thought about the kids who were starving because their parents spent all of their money on drugs. ‘Do you ever think about that child in the projects that was depending on this money, and now they’re hungry?’ I remember just crying because no one had put that image in my head, no one had made that connection to me before.
After that conversation I stopped hanging out in the projects, I stopped selling, smoking weed. I stopped everything. I felt ashamed and angry and I felt like I couldn’t be a part of this anymore. I started doing a lot of soul searching and discovered entrepreneurship and Islam. During that same period I started working as a local DJ, mixing, and I had my own equipment. I worked parties and was selling mix tapes. I was making a lot of money, in the eleventh grade, making $60 to $70 a day sometimes. On weekends I was making a few hundred dollars, even more than I was when drug dealing.
While in the music scene, I started listening to a lot of hip hop music which was influenced by Islam. Gang Star, Wu Tang Clan, Brand Nubian, etc. and many of these artists talked about Islam. I read the autobiography of Malcolm X and I was stuck. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I met a storeowner named Anjan (it’s a traditional Palestinian name). I knew he was Muslim because he had the prayer rug and all these Islamic images. I started asking him about Islam every time I went to his shop, and eventually he started teaching me how to pray, how to speak some Arabic dialects, and how to clean myself. He told me about the Prophet Muhammad. It was very different than what I learned from Malcolm X. I was learning from the Nation of Islam and this Palestinian guy, and I was torn between the two. I started praying with him and it felt so right. Eventually he asked me to go the mosque. I didn’t realize that I was going to take the shahada. I thought I was just going to hang out, but all of a sudden I realized, I was a Muslim.
What impact did your conversion have on your life?
It was a great thing. I started learning about Islam, I stopped selling dope, and I was now selling music. I was DJ-ing at college frat parties and night clubs, and no one knew that I was in high school. A funny moment happened when I came home to tell my mother the exciting news that I had taken my oath, that I was a Muslim now. I was wondering, ‘How is she going to take it? How can I explain this to her?’ My mother can barely speak English. I said, ‘Mom, I took my shahada, I’m Muslim now.’ I explained it to her. She told me, ‘Oh yeah, we were already Muslims.’ I thought, “What?” She said, “Oh yeah, your dad was Muslim.” I asked her why I was only hearing this now. She said that we never gave up Islam. She told me that Islam was our ethnicity. She thought that when we came to America and started practicing Catholicism, that that was just part of American culture. She didn’t know that she had converted to a new religion.
In Cambodia many people viewed Islam as part of your ethnicity, so you could never stop being Muslim. You may stop praying, you may not know everything, but ethnically you are a Muslim. She didn’t understand that by going to church and by praying, we had converted to a new religion. When she was explaining that stuff, I was like, “Wow, that’s crazy.” Here I was, converting to Islam, not knowing that I had always been a Muslim. After that conversation my mother started practicing Islam again, too. And then my siblings got involved and they started practicing.
With a father figure and a new grounding in Islam, what was next? Did you complete high school? Did you go on to college?
A year after myself and my family starting practicing Islam again, I graduated high school. I was extremely proud and excited, but I realized I didn’t know what I would do next. I didn’t know where to go, so I decided to try college. I didn’t have anyone to help me, and I was dyslexic at the time. I didn’t know about my learning disability, I couldn’t complete the application, and I had no letters of recommendation. I couldn’t complete financial aid; all these things people take for granted I didn’t have. I didn’t have an academic advisor.
I went to Dardell and told him that I wanted to go to college but that I didn’t know how to do any of this stuff. My mother couldn’t complete these forms. I couldn’t complete these forms. Dardell helped me apply and took me to the local community college and helped me register. He got me registered for financial aid, and I got my associates degree.
While doing this I was also doing a lot of nonprofit work. During this time I started working with at-risk kids, at-risk families, doing some social work. I started advocating for at-risk kids and students with learning disabilities. But I was struggling with community college and I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t stay focused. I was actually failing, and I was placed on academic probation twice. One of my professors who knew me well told me to look into Empire State College, which worked with adult students, because he knew I was working a lot, I had a lot on my plate, and that I was struggling. So I got my grades back up to a 2.0 and applied to Empire State College and got accepted. Empire gave me a mentor, instead of a professor or an academic advisor, who worked one-on-one with me. This person recommended that I take a learning styles test. After completing the assessment he told me I was dyslexic. I had been going to school struggling with dyslexia and I didn’t know it. He told me that it wasn’t a disability, but that I was capable. There are tools and resources I could use to learn. I could still be successful and work around this even though I was dyslexic.
How did you deal with your learning disability? Were you able to complete your degree?
Around the time I learned I was dyslexic, I got married. I was 21. My wife, Chela Serat, was a theater major at Syracuse University. Her parents came from high education and were middle-class African American. Her mother worked for the chancellor and I was this thug who wanted to marry their daughter after meeting her and knowing her for a month. It was not a pretty sight. Even during the wedding they tried to stop it. Even my mother did not show up because she thought I was not serious.
Chela was the one that made me take education seriously because of how important she thought it was. Even when I wanted to give up she was the one that kept on pushing me to continue education. Because of her, I was successful at Empire State College. After being at Empire for a year and a half I completed an associate’s degree. Once I did that it felt like an addiction. It didn’t feel bad. I felt like I could do this. So I went after my bachelor’s. After a year—because of all my life experiences and my transfer credits—I got my bachelor’s.
How did you begin your career in business?
While pursuing my bachelor’s, I was working with a bunch of non-profits, many were struggling with operational problems and internal finances. They were struggling with maintaining their finances. Fiscally they were struggling. At the time I wanted to be a social worker, but I knew that there were a lot of great social workers that were already in this space but not a lot of good business people.
Since there were few people that knew how to manage a nonprofit like a business, I decided to get a master’s in business. I was learning all of these amazing things, these corporate methods, and I was excited about my education and about my learning. But I would go back to the non-profits, and they would laugh at me saying that there was no way nonprofits could apply corporate methodologies.
After a year of frustration I met several doctoral students who were studying similar things in their research and looking at how to teach non-profits to apply corporate methodologies. I got together with them and we realized that we could form a trade association to bring these non-profits together. So we started a non-profit called the Human Services Association of Central New York. This allowed us to provide free workshops and free training for social workers who needed to continue their training but couldn’t afford it. Because of our affiliation with Syracuse University and the city, it allowed us access to credibility. Eventually after two years we started getting very successful and got a lot of funding for programs and membership money. We secured several large grants.
Something else happened—all of a sudden our clientele started changing. A lot of the small businesses were asking for the same training. We started getting small and medium sized businesses as clients. And many of the nonprofits were telling us that, while they were getting a lot from these workshops, they didn’t know how to apply it once they left the workshop. They needed someone to come into their organization and spend time with their people—to help apply the skills and monitor the execution.
Both of these changes encouraged our shift from a non-profit to private for-profit consulting firm. We started consulting, and I completed my master’s. I was still addicted to education so I went after another master’s. I ended up with a master’s in business management and project management.
Was there any significant moment or milestone that changed the trajectory of your career?
With the project management certification, our organization was able to secure this large project with Destiny USA, which was supposed to be like Disneyworld in Syracuse, NY. It was a huge failure, like Enron, there were lots of fights, lawsuits, lots of money being lost, millions of dollars.
I learned a lot from this failure. I learned a lot about ethics and about business, about community development. Because of that, I started working more with non-profits. Destiny USA had this mission that they called “attitude over aptitude.” The idea was that not everyone had the right aptitude, but with the right attitude we can get you that aptitude. For example, they would hire people from non-traditional professional backgrounds and would train them. They would get six figure salary jobs. I loved that idea—taking a guy with his GED who worked in a grocery store and in six months would be making $30,000. I thought it was a great idea. I thought it was sustainable. I wanted it to be successful. I was promoting this idea and they were hiring—they hired over 360 people. A lot of people were starting out with $60,000 a year and many of them only made $20,000, so I was excited. I felt like I was doing something great, with the possibility that these people could be licensed and certified to become welders, be a part of a union and make a living wage.
But after eight months we realized it was a huge scam. They hired these people because they were trying to pressure the mayor to agree to their terms. If you hire 300 people and pay them all this money, then they will do whatever it takes to keep their job, they would protest for them in front of the mayor’s office every single day, pressuring him to vote for what the developers wanted. They were using these people as pawns, and I felt like I was part of this.
I became a community organizer when everything fell apart and tried to get people jobs, tried to reeducate people. All of this work, from being a social worker, a case worker, a DJ, an entrepreneur, everything came full circle, and I was helping people again. I was helping young people.
That’s quite a story! How have you been able to use all of your experience in your desire to help others?
Through the production which I started talking about at the beginning, which was seen by thousands of people, I was able to speak about my experience at high schools, and middle schools, and students in college. I realized through the power of storytelling I could change lives. I could get people to connect, to be motivated, to be inspired. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since, as a professor, a writer, and researcher. I focus on being a part of projects that help me get closer with people and share my stories and try to change their lives.
I know you talked a bit about how you came to Islam, or re-came to Islam. What kind of connections do you draw between your religious journey to Islam and your business and non-profit work afterwards?
Islam provided me with structure and a sense of family and unity. I was all of a sudden tasked to be part of larger projects, whether through dawa (teaching the community) or cleaning streets. I had this sense of pride because I would walk around with my kufi and I could be in the western neighborhoods and I was left alone. No one would hurt me because I was a righteous man. This was before 9/11 and Islam was still seen as this very righteous religion. If you were a Muslim, you are righteous. There was a culture attached to it because of Hip Hop. Obviously 9/11 changed all of that. I do think it influenced all of my work because it was the religion that kept me on the right path and was what introduced me to my wife.
You spoke a little bit about how your work connected to Cambodia, although you haven’t gone back since you left as a child. Can you talk about what kind of work you do that connects you back to your roots?
A lot of immigrants practice what we call ‘ethnic enterprise.’ We send money overseas and the money helps to create new business, and it creates ways of interest by loaning. Many people send all of their earnings from America. It’s not sustainable. The people overseas become dependent on that money. The people in Cambodia start to expect us to send a lot of money, it’s part of the privilege.
My family was falling into that category. My mom was working three or four jobs and sending money overseas, while struggling with the bills overseas. Her idea was that her struggles in America were nothing compared to the struggles in Cambodia. What we were doing was not sustaining us or our family overseas. So what I decided to do with my family was to buy several acres of farmland in Cambodia. Many of my relatives were already farmers before the war and sold goods from the farm. That’s how they made a living. But they lost their land during the war.
I decided to buy several acres of land using my own money and my family’s money. When my mom went overseas, I said we need to teach farming again. Initially it was successful. They were farming. We bought equipment and everything, and they were growing fruits and vegetables. There was a fish pond with catfish, they bought a cow, and things were looking good, like they could sustain and feed themselves. And then my mother came back from her visit and said that they were growing enough to feed themselves for a few weeks but were not selling their crops, letting them rot instead. They didn’t understand the concept, what I was trying to create there. When I explained to them that they could grow these crops and sell them, and I talked to them about entrepreneurship, they told me, “You could do that. You could do that in America.” They didn’t understand that they could take control of this. They didn’t think in the long-term. They didn’t understand that they could sell and trade this.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, especially in third world countries, many of them see it as a privilege. You can’t become an entrepreneur. I had these conversations with my relatives. One of them told me, “We don’t have the last name,” for example, as if it is set up like a class system. If you don’t have this last name, if you don’t know this person, you’re not going to get these loans or business licenses. In a lot of countries they see entrepreneurship as something they can’t do, even though they’re probably doing it already. So I spoke with my uncle overseas and told them that we were only going to send money to help sustain the land, and if they wouldn’t sustain it, then I was going to sell it off.
Did your family in Cambodia take your business advice?
Eventually they hired someone to maintain the land. Then they started identifying which crops sold better, and they started growing crops, working with small distributors. When it comes to distributors, I got people to call me back because they saw that I was calling from America. When my uncle went over to talk with these people, they gave him the run-around. They would not take him seriously. When someone calls from America, you get phone calls back, emails right away. I was negotiating with many people. They were doing many things they would not do with my uncle. I had to do more on this end to secure those business dealings. Other family members started doing the same thing, and people that were not related to us started buying land next to us and replicating the process. Now we have 20 to 40 acres when combined and it looks like a co-op. We maintain the land, but they own everything grown on it; they keep 100 percent of the profits. As long as everyone is doing things they are supposed to do equally, they can share the profits, the wealth and the food. People are building homes near this farm land so they can be closer to it. I’m the only person who hasn’t gone back overseas to see the land in person. I hear about it, and I see pictures of it.
If you did go back to visit Cambodia, what would you do? What are some lessons you have learned, about entrepreneurship, for example, that you would want to spread?
Two years ago I received a $30,000 grant to go back to Cambodia to do some work. I partnered with the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace—they wanted me to do some education on entrepreneurship. I was ready to go but then I was offered a dean position in another state, and my wife was pregnant and everything changed. But that’s what I want to do.
I want to go back and do some education programs. I want to educate Cambodian youth because so many of them don’t know about the killing fields, because their parents never told them. They don’t want to talk about it—they feel ashamed. They also don’t want to talk about it, because they feel it’s their personal business. You have many youth who are now in their 20s, and they have no idea that their parents experienced this genocide, or they don’t know that there are family members that have been killed. They don’t know this history. They don’t appreciate it. They take all that stuff for granted.
Another project I’d also like to work on is filming my trip back to Cambodia, where I can walk in my father’s footsteps and see where he grew up, and where he died and maybe find some archive images, because I have no pictures of him. My mother tried, but it’s been several years now and there have been a lot of projects with pictures, images, something that will help me see a picture of my dad. The film project idea came from something that Syracuse University did about me, a short film called Against the Odds. They videotaped me, and it’s on Youtube. It has over 100,000 hits and I get a lot of calls and emails from people that were impacted by that film. Especially from Cambodian youth who see the film and realize there are people like them, there are people that have experienced something like that.
Have you talked at all about your faith background with family back home? Is that something that would resonate with them?
The family on my mother’s side is all Muslim. We raised money to build a masjid back there. Now you have people building homes around it. We do a lot of stuff over there with regards to it. It’s beautiful.
Have you had a chance to bring entrepreneurial lessons to where you live now, or in other faith communities you’ve been a part of?
There is an organization called Khmerican. They educate young people on pop culture and entrepreneurship related to Cambodia. I do a lot of stuff for them. They’ve interviewed me, they’ve videotaped me, I’ve done Google hangouts and Skype meetings with them.
What’s next for you?
I hope to finish a book on my life. I’ve written several books, but never one on my life. One book is close to being done. It uses bits of my story and tells my struggles, success, and failures, using these examples as lessons learned to help inspire and guide young people. The other one, a biography, is going to be called The Forgotten Genocide: A Beautiful Love Story, focusing on my mother’s love for me, and how she refused to give up. That’s going to be more about my mother journey and a little of my story mixed in. That’s what I hope to finish in the near future. I am also hoping to go to Cambodia, as we discussed before, and finally work on the video and education projects I’ve been dreaming of for a while.