As Chairman of NECO, it is my privilege to welcome you to the 31st Annual Ellis Island Medals of Honor. I’m proud to have been involved with NECO for over twenty-one years, with the last thirteen having the honor to serve as Chairman. I often think back to when my dear friend, William Denis Fugazy Sr., founded National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations – NECO in 1984. Bill wanted to celebrate the best of the best in America, those citizens who were not merely successful, but those who truly lived and promoted the ideals of the United States: freedom, equality and opportunity.
1984 was a truly monumental year in America. The world was watching the historic Los Angeles Summer Olympic and the patriotic extravaganza of the 1976 Bicentennial remained fresh in our minds. Ronald Reagan was enjoying unprecedented popularity and, in November, he would be elected for a second term in a landslide victory. That year, the Statue of Liberty was closed to begin a major renovation which was to be paid for by donations raised in a brilliant marketing campaign led by the legendary Lee Iacocca at the behest of President Reagan. It was with the encouragement and full support of President Reagan that Billy Fugazy Sr. founded NECO as Chairman and with Lee at his side as Co-Chairman. Today I am proud to continue the great work my two dear friends started so many years ago.
You may ask, what do brilliant research scientists have in common with a business CEO? Or how do we compare highly-decorated career military personnel with acclaimed athletes? Or educators with media personalities and performers? I can acknowledge that it is not always easy, but we see what they all have in common: a commitment to America. I’m proud that every one of our Medalists have earned this distinction on their own merits and by their own actions in service to others. They remind us all that compassion, goodness and integrity is truly the heart and soul of the American dream.
Today, in 2017, our mission of tolerance, respect and celebrating diversity are more important than ever. Ellis Island is a symbol of freedom and liberty around the world, and with these hallowed grounds as our guide, we have never strayed from our mission of celebrating America’s immigrant history. I do not believe that America and immigration can ever be separated. Our diversity is what makes America unique and is at the core of our strength. I believe that we must hold those ideals of acceptance and tolerance if we are to keep the American dream alive. As NECO Chairman, and as an immigrant myself, I can promise you that NECO will continue to embrace all who arrive here seeking freedom and are willing to contribute to our nation’s success.
I hope you will share this journey with us.
Nasser J. Kazeminy