In a busy strip mall in Detroit's Warrendale neighborhood, My Computers and Phones, LLC is doing steady business repairing and selling computers and providing phone services to locals. Standing in front of a bright pink hookah, Imad Agh Morad, the shop's owner, welcomes his customers with an easy manner, giving no indication of the struggles he has faced on his path to entrepreneurship in Detroit.
Morad's long journey began in his native country, Iraq.
As the American occupation came to a close, Morad was working as an electrical engineer for an American firm. He was happy to be a part of efforts to rebuild his country, but he was not safe. Al Qaeda, thinking Morad was a spy for the Americans, kidnapped him. He was blindfolded, thrown into a dark cell, beaten, and tortured for months. He was convinced that he would never again see his family.
Then came a lucky break. Fearing the discovery of its secret prison, Al Qaeda decided to move Morad and his fellow captives to a new location. When a suspicious guard at an Iraqi checkpoint demanded to examine the contents of the truck, the sound of a kicking foot revealed the prisoners, who were hidden under a pile of vile garbage.
The nightmare was over. After seven long months in captivity, Morad and his fellow prisoners were free.
But Morad knew he would not be safe unless he could get out of the country. At the risk of being caught again before obtaining new papers, he hid in his brother's home for three months. Finally, he escaped the country and joined a friend in Sweden, where he found work as an electrical engineer for two years.
All the while, Morad continued to hope that one day he would reunite with his family. Convinced that he was dead and fearing for their own lives, they had fled to the UN in Iraq for help shortly after Morad's capture and then relocated to the U.S.
Two years after his release from captivity by Al Qaeda, Imad Agh Morad touched down in Fort Collins, Colo. His heart pounding from excitement, Morad reunited with his wife and three children. "That was the most wonderful day of my life," says Morad's son Ahmed.
Longing to find a way to support his family and to be with people of his own culture, Morad searched the Internet and learned of the large Arabic population residing on the west side of Detroit and in Dearborn. Traveling from Colorado to Detroit, not knowing anyone, he made his way from the airport to a coffee shop frequented by many native-Middle Easterners. Learning of a gentleman who wanted to sell his computer store, he walked five miles to meet with him. Morad convinced the man to let him work for free for four months to learn every aspect of the business.
In the meantime, on a visit to ACCESS
(Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services) to register for Medicaid, Morad noticed a sign promoting the ACCESS Growth Center
, an entrepreneurship training and technical assistance program. He enrolled and secured a microloan, and when he needed more capital, was encouraged to reach out to ProsperUS Detroit
. ProsperUS works with entrepreneurs by concentrating micro-enterprise development in low-income immigrant and minority neighborhoods. Through them, Morad was able obtain a startup loan to purchase the business.
"Thanks to ACCESS Growth Center and ProsperUS, I am able to take care of my family. I am making money, so I can pay the loan back on time," says Morad.
Today, Morad and his family reside on Detroit's northwest side, not far from his store. He has been able to keep the previous owner's customers and to grow the business. Recently he added a new item to his inventory: prepaid phones which specialize in reaching the Middle East and Central America.
"This is my home now. This is where I feel comfortable. America is my home."
This story appears courtesy of Global Detroit, an organization dedicated to welcoming, retaining, and empowering immigrant communities as valued contributors to regional growth in Southeast Michigan