who i am...
In 1989, Esam Naoum returned to Detroit Metro Airport from the Middle East. Struggling to find a job as an engineer in Michigan, he was contemplating uprooting the family back to the Middle East to accept a job offer from a German oil company. After handing his Green Card to the U.S. customs agent and explaining his plan to leave, the agent looked at my father, smiled, and said, "Welcome Home." Remembering the trials and tribulations he faced in escaping the Iran-Iraq War and that his son was born a year earlier in America, a feeling of belonging washed over him. Despite the difficulties and uncertainty ahead, he was determined to become a citizen, raise an American family in Sterling Heights, and find the American Dream.
We never looked back.
Growing up in a working class neighborhood off 14 and Ryan was everything for my childhood. My parents worked a lot to keep things afloat financially, so my older sisters kept a watchful eye over me while I learned to balance my family's roots with my American identity. On Barbara Drive in the 90s, street hockey was the diplomacy used to forge friendships between neighborhood kids of all colors and creeds -- being a brown kid named "Wisam" didn't matter so long as I could put the puck in the net. My first exposure to democratic principles were in that neighborhood as all decisions were put to a vote and any dispute was resolved in the courts of Nintendo 64. That classic American childhood shaped the values that guide me today.
I went on to attend Wayne State University and the University of Michigan Law School. During that time, the Iraq War raged and I saw more and more recently resettled kids face severe challenges adjusting to their new home. They were traumatized from war and dumped into public schools without speaking a lick of English. Our local schools, like Grissom Middle School, didn't know what to do with them, so some friends and I created a nonprofit to help mentor them and bridge the gap between the Chaldean Catholic community and those around us. To this day, helping those kids integrate and succeed has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.
After I left Ann Arbor, I wound up in Chicago working as a finance lawyer at two large corporate law firms, primarily focusing on mergers and acquisitions financings. In my spare time, I worked on policy addressing the crisis facing the Chaldean Catholic community in Iraq at the hands of ISIS with some colleagues. Our work ultimately resulted in an invite to the White House to help implement a law we had recently gotten passed to fight ISIS.
Walking into the White House that day was overwhelming. On the one hand, the somber reality of genocide and the suffering of my community in Iraq weighed heavily on me. On the other hand, it dawned on me that the brown kid with a funny name from Barbara Drive, a child of Iraqi immigrants that gave up everything to find home here in America, had become an American finance lawyer with an opportunity to help shape U.S. foreign policy in Iraq.
Through hard work and determination, I fulfilled the promise of my parent's sacrifices and achieved what many would consider the American Dream. Yet, deep down I knew something was off.
One night, I plopped down onto the couch with a beer after closing a major deal for a big bank. Aiming to unwind, I flipped on the TV and started to flick through channels. As I passed through the news channels on my way to ESPN for Michigan Football updates, a headline caught my eye -- a big bank I used to work with was fined hundreds of millions of dollars for taking advantage of millions of customers. I wondered what it would change, but I knew the truth even if I didn't want to admit it -- no one was going to be held accountable and no laws would be put in place to better protect consumers. I started to think about what really needed to change.
The economy was steadily improving after the Great Recession, but worker layoffs and wage stagnation were still the norm. Meanwhile, executives and shareholders from those same companies pulled in record bonuses and profits. The dots started to connect.
A rigged game of the Have's vs. the Have Not's wasn't the American Dream that I grew up learning in Sterling Heights. I left Chicago and came home to work as the general counsel for a successful small business. I wanted to use my spare time to get involved locally again.
Soon after I got home, the Chaldean Catholic community was rocked by roundups and detentions related to immigration. Regardless of your politics, it's difficult to watch families you know get torn apart for the sake of political rhetoric. My friends and I organized and we teamed up with the ACLU. We've been fighting the unconstitutional detention of community members ever since.
In the process, I met Melissa. The first things I noticed about her were her short, cropped hair and a tube sticking out of her chest. Melissa has a deadly disease that requires bone marrow transplants. Unfortunately, her only match is her uncle. The problem is that her uncle, due to drug addiction problems when he was young, was rounded up as one of the detainees. It's one thing to fight for a cause...it's another thing to look a desperate woman in the eyes and promise her that you'll do everything you can to bring her lifeblood home.
Everything on this journey has had a profound impact on me. Memories of summer mornings on the porch with Mr. Williams, a WWII veteran, keeping me on the straight and narrow fill me with appreciation while memories of watching my parents sacrifice opportunities so that I could have a good meal every night fill me with love and gratitude. I've been blessed with so much in life and I've grown enough to know it's not about me or my ambitions anymore. It's about my hometown, my state, my country, and most importantly, the People who were promised a Dream that's instead slipped out of their grasps in the dysfunction of an ever-polarized government.
I know what drives me now: giving back to my hometown that raised me, to the state that shaped my identity, and to the country that gave so much to me and my family. That's my American Dream and that's why I'm running for office.