Shahid Yaqoob, born in Pakistan, lived comfortably in America until 9/11 brought about a type of discrimination he had never witnessed before. It changed his life and his motivation for it — making his priority to give Pakistanis proud of where they come from and where their country is going.
My name is Shahid Yaqoob, but I am also known as Bobby. I was born in Lahore, Pakistan. I always remember Pakistan as being very loving growing up, with lots of string puppet shows. But we later immigrated to America, to North Philadelphia, where I went to Thomas Edison High School and was selected to be president of the school as only a sophomore.
At first, our neighborhood in North Philadelphia was filled with religious, loving and hardworking people, and that section of the city was a hub for the textile industry. Slowly, a wave of drugs started entering the area, and soon it was taken over by drug lords and shootings. I witnessed my decent neighbors, who I once aimed to be like, give themselves to the drug business. People were dying all too often.
The only good thing was Rocky movies were being filmed in the area. That culture of boxing, karate, martial arts, helped me refrain from indulging with negative company. It was my way out. I even met Sylvester Stallone a few times after his movie shoots. My parents and I would wake up and go to the factories for work, see the violence and darkness, but because of martial arts there was light.
But then 9/11 changed my life in a major way. For the first time, I wanted to make a change, but I didn’t know how, so I opted to return to Pakistan. But in Pakistan, people thought I had given up my life hood and that I was wasting my time caring about discrimination in the Pakistani community.
I started using my English skills to speak with Americans online and share my story. It started with American friends from childhood that found me online. I would email them and they would follow my blog. It was the only way, since social networks and video chatting were not in place yet. Slowly, my following grew, and I invited people to come to Pakistan and visit, to learn about the country and its culture, to learn about business and community development in our country. Canadians, Americans and British people would come for a short visit and go. It was as if Pakistan wasn’t ready for them yet. The infrastructure for development wasn’t there, the bus service and city road projects had yet to start. Motor fuel from rickshaws was causing a lot of smog. There wasn’t cable TV. Everyone I wanted to assist and keep in Pakistan was unimpressed and heading home.
While Pakistan began to flourish, I turned my attention to the Pakistani American youth. I asked them to come to Pakistan, and I started with Bashir Ahmad, a mixed martial arts star. I had met him online, through other youth I had been mentoring, and I knew if he came it could change the picture for Pakistani youth. When he came, he saw the Pakistan the other foreigners had seen, but slowly things began to change, his business grew, and I did whatever I could do assist him and make MMA popular.
I do all of this because my hope and dream is that all Pakistanis around the world can carry themselves and be self-sufficient no matter where they are, with pride for themselves and without discrimination. The biggest challenge for me has been getting people to believe in Pakistan, but my work isn’t done. I always tell youth to not quit because I believe in them, that they should get up and win, no matter what they are trying to accomplish. I take my own advice and will see impressions of Pakistan and Pakistani Americans change as the country continues to flourish.