by MIT SHAH
In September of 1964, just weeks after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, my father, Bharat, left a small manufacturing town in rural India as an immigrant to the United States. In search of the American Dream, Dad arrived in Knoxville, TN, as a college student and found himself in a country torn by a crisis of compassion. Later that same year, he saw Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. accept the Nobel Prize for Peace and heard his hopeful remarks that “Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Sooner or later, all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace.”
But today, the struggle for genuine equality remains. My father observed the end of the tyrannical British rule over India through the vigor of Gandhi’s leadership. In America, he bore witness to a powerful movement led by Dr. King. Growing up, Dad encouraged us to read their works and would describe how strong minds and noble hearts were the most potent weapons available on the journey for freedom, justice, and prosperity.
STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS
In the summer of 1979, I was 10 years old when my parents became the proud owners of the Winkler Motor Inn in Winston Salem, NC. As a kid, you learn a lot from working the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift every Saturday and Sunday. Even more so with brown skin and the last name Shah during a time when Americans are being held hostage in a foreign country.
Dad always believed in the power of humanity. Late one evening in 1982, my father received a call from his good friend from Greens-boro, Babu Patel, who relayed that he and several other Patel families were notified that their property insurance was immediately being canceled.
That very week, as president of the India Merchants Association, my father led a congregation of Asian American hotel owners to meet with the governor of North Carolina and the state insurance commissioner. Within days, each person whose insurance had been canceled received letters of apology from their respective insurers, stating that their policies were being reinstated without any lapse of coverage.
Stewardship of community leaders like my father across our country helped to sow the seeds of what would become the Asian Ameri-can Hotel Owners Association. Today, AAHOA is the nation’s largest hotel owner’s association, deeply woven into the very soul and con-science of our communities and our industry.
FROM CRISIS COMES OPPORTUNITY
In 1967, Dr. King gave a speech “The Other America” at Stanford University, where he said, “Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that large segments of society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so, in a real sense, our nation’s summer of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay.”
Make no mistake, my family, like many others, would not be here today if there was not a civil rights movement in the United States. Our country faces a multitude of health, economic, and social challenges. Now, more than ever, it is my hope that those of us who stand here on the shoulders of giants, together alongside a talented and inspired generation led by our progeny, ensure that strong minds, noble hearts, and purposeful actions prevail. This must be our American Dream.
Since 1993, Noble has invested nearly $4 billion in communities throughout the country, creating thousands of jobs. As founder and chief executive officer, Mit Shah provides overall strategic guidance for the Noble organization and heads its investment committee. He has been profiled in Newsweek magazine as one of the most influential South Asians in the United States, named as one of Atlanta’s most prominent leaders by Atlanta Magazine and the Atlanta Business Chronicle, and as one of the 21st century’s most influential hospitality industry leaders by both Lodging Hospitality magazine and Lodging magazine. He is the most recent recipient of the prestigious IREFAC C. Everett Johnson Award for leadership in the hospitality industry.