We have entered an inflection point; whereas 2020 was full of uncertainties and anxieties, 2021 promises to be one of specificity and HD clarity. This is not to put a scare in you, to the contrary my aim is to offer hope in the face of bleakness. I write these words sitting down at a restaurant called Silver Spoon Diner in LeFrak City in Queens New York.
The city that never sleeps is the city that keeps inspiring me; even after two planes obliterated the Twin Towers and countless acts of terror shook the foundation of the Big Apple, she kept rising defiantly and refuses to submit to her detractors. In the genes of NYC is rebellion of the soul; a melody of valor and a poetry of boldness that knows no limit.
As I write this ode to Gotham City, I am sipping coffee at this most amazing diner reflecting about my own journeys. I arrived in New York City in 1983 with my brother, mom and dad looking forward to a new day after leaving the repression of Ethiopia behind us. Full of angst and sorrow, all we had was hope for tomorrow. New York City baptized my family and me in fire, I was forced to grow up quickly and forget the innocence of my childhood in Bole.
This is a story that is common to all of us; the pains of fitting in as an immigrant and the hardships of assimilating for fear of being ostracized is as common as a penny in the streets of NYC. My thoughts are suddenly interrupted by a server named Miguel Martinez, an immigrant from Mexico who comes bearing my breakfast, warming my soul with the kindness of foreigners. In between sips and nibbles, I think of my father Fikremariam Million who passed away nearly twenty one years ago. Though he officially expired on January 4th, 2002, my last goodbyes to my dad happened on December 22nd, 2001—that was the day he took his last breath.
It is only fitting that I think of Fikremariam on this day, there is no one that was more New Yorker than my father. A cabbie in DC, he hustled all his life to make sure that his children went to college and made something out of our lives. To his credit, my oldest sister Mariam attended Syracuse University, the next in line Rahel attended James Madison University, I graduated from George Mason University and attained an MBA from Johns Hopkins University and my younger brother Million also graduated from George Mason University and attained his Masters from Johns Hopkins University.
I don’t write these things to gloat but to praise the sacrifices of my mom and dad. Through their toils we found success, through their tata (troubles) we uncovered our enku (treasures). This is one end of the spectrum when it comes to the American dreams, on the other end resides George who is the owner of Silver Spoon Diner. He too was a product of his father’s dream. Whereas my father Fikre busted his ass in DC, George’s dad John stayed in the city that never dozes and sought his vision by working through sleepless nights.
In 1972, John Raktizis immigrated to the united states from Chios, Greece with his wife and three children. With a family to support, John found work at sleepy hollow diner in Tarrytown, New York. In 1982, John found himself unemployed with a family to support. Finding work seemed nearly impossible, John decided to take a gamble and sell his house in Tarrytown to open his own restaurant in Queens, New York.
With his limited knowledge of the English language, John sought the help of his eldest son George. At the time, George was in the last year of college. Nonetheless, he decided to join his father on this venture. On July 26, 1982, father and son opened “3-star Coffee Shop” in Lefrak City.
The first few years were a struggle, but with the passion, determination and experience of this father-son duo, the business prospered. In 1984, This once tiny coffee shop expanded and became what is now the Silver Spoon Diner. By 1991, both siblings, Anna and Nick, joined the family business. In 2015, the Silver Spoon underwent another transformation and continues to grow and evolve along with the Lefrak City community.
Full circle, this is how life goes 360 and beyond. John is now the proud patriarch who oversees an expanding business in the heart of Queens. This is the story of royals, not the ones who wear crowns of gold but the ones who put on crowns of thorns. Through sacrifices and tears, we pass on to the next generation blessings and memories of resilience. #WeAreNYC Click To Tweet This is why I love New York and why I love America, we are a tapestry of kindness that binds us as one.
Who knows what 2021 brings, but whatever comes, we must faith in this one thing: we are greater together than we are apart. The fires that may arrive could be our biggest crucible but in time the scars we bear will lead to our redemption. Just as New York once rose from the ashes, humanity will in time emerge from the embers and soar like a phoenix. This is not me being prophetic, this is the revelation that awaits us—it’s written in the stars::
“I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth; I came from really humble beginnings – the projects of New York City – and I worked my way to get to where I am.” ~ Adrienne Bailon
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