CLEVELAND — April is National Arab American Heritage Month, and one man in northeast Ohio is connecting his community through career networking.
The professional ventures Omar Kurdi pursues often have personal connections to his life.
"I have a step-brother who's autistic," Kurdi said.
It’s the reason his family started Friends for Life Rehabilitation Services.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility to give them a voice," Kurdi said while he helped a group of adults pot plants at his day program.
It’s also the reason he continues running the family business as the chief executive officer after his dad passed away.
"To see him just get up every day to go to work, trying something new, and, especially, something rewarding, and to think where you're helping people just inspires me to fill his very big shoes," Kurdi said.
Kurdi added he's always looked up to his dad for being a leader in business. But, now, he's also creating a legacy of his own within the Arab American community.
"We have a responsibility to succeed, so we can better represent our community. Like we all know the political climate is a little shaky. People have different perceptions about our community and we are lucky to live in a diverse community like Cleveland," Kurdi said. "So, it should be a little easier for us to succeed in a community that is loving and accepting."
So to make this possible, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kurdi and two colleagues created a young professionals group called Arab Americans of Cleveland.
"I think we needed a group that has nothing to do with faith, has nothing to do with politics, and just [helps] the community advance professionally," Kurdi said.
The CEO, who also dabbles in acting and writing, moved to the states from Jordan back in 2007 and noticed members of the Arab community struggling to overcome career obstacles.
"I do have a lot of friends who have struggled, a lot of friends who didn't get interviews because of their names. I have friends who faced racist remarks during, like, day-to-day work," Kurdi said.
So, through AAC, he and his colleagues provide young Arab professionals with career networking opportunities and fellowship. The group recently hosted their second mixer at Cocky’s Bagels.
At the mixer, Kurdi said, “We’ve seen people mingle, talk, (have conversations), make connections. So, it’s a beautiful thing to see that there’s a lot of Arab Americans here that came to an Arab American-owned restaurant to show unity, solidarity, [and] support during National Arab American Heritage Month."
Kurdi added as the group continues to celebrate their heritage throughout the year, they have plans to expand their efforts.
"The next mixer is going to be very career-oriented and industry-specific. That's something that the community has asked for," Kurdi said. "So basically, we're going to start grouping the medical professions together, informational technology professions together, and all of that."
Supporting students through a mentorship program in the future is also a goal that the board members have.
"When I was in undergrad, I did not have access to professionals that look[ed] like me or [spoke] the same language that I [did]," Kurdi said.
It’s all work that’s he’s taking on to make it easier for other Arab American professionals to sudceed in Cleveland as he becomes a leader in business, just like his dad.
“We’re strictly together because we’re professionals and we just want to help our community advance through referrals, mentorship, um, like, helping with jobs, resumes, internships, and all of that," Kurdi said.
If you're interested in learning more about AAC, please visit their website.