From Businessman to Community Activist For a Pakistani businessman in a Brooklyn neighborhood, the attacks of Sept. 11 changed his career. Mohammed Razvi was part of a small family business empire when he decided to give it all up and become a community activist.
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From Businessman to Community Activist

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From Businessman to Community Activist

From Businessman to Community Activist

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

A video of a smiling Osama bin Laden meeting with the 9/11 hijackers has been released on the Al-Jazeera satellite channel. David Heyman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the timing of the video's release, just days before the fifth anniversary of 9/11, is deliberate.

Mr. DAVID HEYMAN (Director of Homeland Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies): Bin Laden is a masterful public campaigner. His public messages are strategic, and this is an opportunity to reinforce that he is relevant.

INSKEEP: Now, as the fifth anniversary of September 11th approaches, NPR is profiling people who changed their lives after the terrorist attacks. And today we hear the story of a Pakistani businessman in Brooklyn who changed his career.

His name is Mohammad Razvi. He was part of a small, family business empire when he decided to give it all up and become a community activist.

From member station WNYC, Cindy Rodriguez reports.

CINDY RODRIGUEZ: Low-rise buildings line Coney Island Avenue in Midwood, Brooklyn. Every other sign is in Arabic, and stores that sell colorful fabrics for saris are sprinkled throughout the block.

Dressed in long sleeves and slightly crooked tie, Mohammad Razvi gives a tour of this commercial district known as Little Pakistan by those who live there.

Mr. MOHAMMAD RAZVI (Community Activist, Brooklyn): If you see, it says Punjab Suites. That's one of the businesses. If you look across where you see it says (unintelligible) Bazaar, a $.99 cent store. There, it also has a bookstore in it. The Punjab Grocery, that's us.

RODRIGUEZ: He is pointing to the family businesses that he once helped run. Razvi is the oldest of five boys, and his father was one of the first Pakistanis to come to the neighborhood. On Coney Island Avenue, American flags are duct taped to parking meters. Young boys dressed in knitted skullcaps play in front of the neighborhood mosque.

Mr. RAZVI: Now, you see, there's a mosque. At the end of the corner you'll see a liquor store that just opened up. It used to be a Pakistani barbershop. That would've never happened if the community was still strong.

RODRIGUEZ: Razvi says after September 11th, FBI agents and immigration officials descended on his community, scaring many residents away and causing upheaval in the neighborhood. Inside his office, he pulls out a rectangular book full of business cards.

Mr. RAZVI: These were the cards left by federal authorities. One of them reads like, please call me. We just need to ask you some questions.

RODRIGUEZ: Families in need were coming to business owners, which prompted Razvi to offer an empty storefront he had leased as a central place where the community could come for help. The change was supposed to be temporary. For two years he ran the makeshift community center while managing the family businesses until the juggling became impossible and he made the decision to become a full-time advocate.

Mr. RAZVI: I didn't expect this. This I just fell into. And I didn't, you know, I didn't expect it. It's just something that just - I'm following it as it's going, the whole road. I don't know where it's going to lead me towards, but I like it.

RODRIGUEZ: Advocating on behalf of the community required building a relationship with the FBI and immigration officials. Now the 36 year old advises both agencies on how to be culturally sensitive. He also went through an FBI Citizen's Academy, where he says he built contacts that can help when there is a crisis in the community. His contacts, he says, have helped him locate many a Muslim man picked up by federal authorities.

Mr. RAZVI: Which just keeps me going. Yes! I got that guy out and he's back with his family. Oh, I got this guy out. He's married now.

RODRIGUEZ: Today, Razvi's full time nonprofit is called the Council of Peoples Organization, or COPO for short.

On a Friday afternoon, there's a legal clinic going on. Several men are waiting for advice, and Sukhuri Hassan(ph) is already sitting with an attorney. He is an American citizen from Turkey, and says he was arrested at JFK Airport after being falsely accused of assaulting an airline employee. He came to COPO to try to get his passport back from police.

Unidentified Woman: It's your property. You're trying to get your property, right?


Unidentified Woman: Did they take anything else?

Mr. HASSAN: No, only the passport.

Unidentified Woman: They don't want you to leave?

Mr. HASSAN: Right.

RODRIGUEZ: Hassan's children play on computers nearby. A group of older boys play basketball in the backyard.

(Soundbite of crowd noise, basketball bouncing)

The businessman in Mohammad Razvi is far from gone. He believes firmly in fiscal discipline and criticizes other nonprofits who try to do too much with too few resources.

While his life has changed dramatically, his paycheck is about half the size it used to be and he couldn't afford private school for two of his five children, Razvi says there are no regrets.

For NPR News, I'm Cindy Rodriguez, in New York.

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