Tuesday, January 7, 2003

Second job was what he wanted


Thanks to the kindness of strangers, George Elias Sr. flips burgers five nights a week.

The money he makes from his second job, standing over a hot griddle at the Wendy's in Loveland, helps pay for his wife's doctor bills.

George knows this would not be possible without the caring people of Cincinnati. That makes me proud of my hometown.

Say what you will about Cincinnati. And plenty of rotten stuff has been said lately.

Boycotters continue to bad-mouth the city. They sadly want organizers to cancel or move the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Dreamkeepers Award Breakfast out of town, even though the event promotes racial equality in Cincinnati, the boycotters' alleged goal.

Businesses keep fleeing a snakebit downtown. The latest casualty is Closson's. The storied firm with deep roots in Cincinnati plans to pack up its reputation for offering elegant home furnishings - along with its supply of snooty clerks - and hightail it to the suburbs.

Still, when all is said and done, Cincinnatians care. They help individuals when they are down on their luck and have been mistreated.

George filled that bill. When I first wrote about him in August, the 45-year-old Army veteran, who immigrated to this country in 1976, needed a second job to make ends meet.

He wanted something at nights and on the weekends, after he finished his day job as a plumber.

George works hard. He arrives early. Stays late. Hates taking sick days. Won't take handouts.

"I'll work minimum wage," he said. "No problem."

The problem was no one would hire him.

George is from Iraq.

This did not sit well with prospective employers, namely managers of fast-food restaurants near where George lives in Goshen.

When they discovered his birthplace, the job he was applying for would suddenly vanish.

Then, George would hear a variation on the same lame excuse. The job's filled. Somebody just forgot to take down the "Now Hiring" sign. So sorry.

After George's story came to light in this space, he received 48 job offers from across the Tristate. Other callers wanted to share their food, clothes and prayers.

"When I got those calls, I went into the living room, sat by my wife and cried like a baby," George said.

"It touched me that people cared that much to go out of their way to help me."

George wound up working for B.R. Bryant. The general manager of the Loveland Wendy's doesn't care about George coming from Iraq.

"I know we're into it with that country," B.R. told me. "But, that doesn't make any difference. He's still a human being. Everybody in this country is equal."

B.R. wants to pass along a message to the restaurant managers who didn't hire George because of his place of birth, the color of his skin, his accent.

"Look in the mirror," he said. The face in the looking glass answers to the name, Prejudice.

"They missed out on hiring an excellent man, an excellent worker," B.R. added.

"If I could, I'd hire 10 more just like him."

For weeks, George has been struggling to write thank-you notes to the kind strangers who offered to come to his rescue.

He starts. Then he stops.

"No words can describe how thankful I am," he said.

"It makes me feel strong to know there are a lot of good people in this country. That's why I came here to live."

That's why, despite its problems, Cincinnati is still a place that cares.

E-mail cradel@enquirer.com or call 768-8379

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