Ethiopian man thankful for chance to come to America

LAS VEGAS - February is Black History Month and 8 News NOW is uncovering hidden histories in the Las Vegas community.

One of those stories is at a dry cleaning and alteration center.

From a few dollars in his pocket as a political refugee to a successful small business owner. That's the story of Mahamed Youssouf.

If you're a regular at Green Cleaners, Youssouf doesn't just know your name, he treats you like family and he's always smiling.

"When you're free, you don't have nothing to worry about your life. Everything else easy," he said.

For Youssouf, freedom didn't come easy. The 58-year-old man's journey is featured in an oral history project on African-Americans through the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

For him, the best part of the book is about his arrival in the United States.

"The feeling you know is just something you cannot express it," he said. 

Youssouf was born in Ethiopia.

In the mid-1970s, the emperor was overthrown by the military and Youssouf who was a teen protested for free elections which came with a price.

"Beat up, torture, all kind of stuff. They do everybody, they don't care how old you are, how young or brutal, what they do to you."

As a political prisoner, he was arrested three times.

Then finally, a family friend snuck him out of jail and dropped him off in the desert with no food and just the clothes on his back.

"A lot of my high school friends get killed. People who grow up together. That's why the last chance I got to get out of there was life and death," he said.

His journey was 300 miles to the next border and then to a refugee camp. With help from the United Nations, countries like Canada, Germany and Australia accepted refugees, but Youssouf held out for America.

"My heart set here to come so I say I'm gonna wait until the United States opens the door." 

His wish came true. He says, in Sept. of 1980, he arrived in New York City where he worked and went to school. He then moved to Los Angeles. The third generation tailor set a goal to open his own business and he did that after a move to Las Vegas.

"When I came here, I embraced the city. It became my hometown."

Youssouf and his wife have raised two children in southern Nevada. A decision to turn to environmentally friendly dry cleaning helped set their business apart. And his dedication to help the community has not gone unnoticed.

He has signs of recognition in his shop from Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, a state legislator and and Clark County commssioner.

Youssouf was honored by the commission for his generosity after the Oct. 1 shooting massacre. He matched a customer's donation to pay for first responders' dry cleaning bills. Some of them who were at the tragic scene regularly bring their uniforms to his shop. Other customers began donating and the giving continued.

"My belief is it's the relationship you have in the community, the relationship I have with your customers, what you do every single day is an investment. It builds up."

His priority: paying it forward.

 "I wake up every morning, it's a gift of life."

Youssouf acknowledges his fight for democracy is something no one should go through. But also says it has helped shape the man he is today.

"People should understand the value of freedom." 

 


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