The touching story of a Michigan-bound Syrian refugee who lost his wife and daughter in a deadly attack has sparked generosity from all over the world, including actor and filmmaker Edward Norton, who said he was moved to tears by the tale and has raised more than $375,000 for the family.
Humans of New York, a blog founded by Brandon Stanton that features strangers in New York, shared the story of the unnamed man, who said he worked as a scientist in Syria and that he is being resettled in Troy. Stanton recently embarked upon the new series, “The Syrian Americans,” to highlight the voices of refugees.
The story went viral on Facebook last week with thousands of likes, and it even garnered an official response from President Obama, who welcomed the Syrian refugee to the U.S.
Norton — who starred in Fight Club alongside Brad Pitt and in American History X — read the story and decided to launch the fundraiser, which has been officially backed by Humans of New York. The fundraiser, which is called the Scientist, has raised more than $375,000 and donations continue to pour in.
“This man has suffered profound loss that would crush the spirit of many people and yet he still passionately wants a chance to contribute positively to the world,” Norton wrote on the Crowdrise fundraiser site. “If we don’t welcome people like this into our communities and empower his dream of making an impact with his life, then we’re not the country we tell ourselves we are. Let’s reject the ‘anti-human’ voices that tell us to fear refugees and show this man and his family what Americans are really made of. Let’s show that a country built by the energy and dreams of immigrants still believes in brave people who come here with hope for a better life.”
In seven different posts, Stanton told the story of the man who described his life from the time he was raised in Syria to when he lost his wife and a daughter. His wife and a daughter were killed when a missile filled with shrapnel and needles tore through his family’s compound.
The man said he’s been living in Turkey for two years with his surviving son and daughter but hasn’t been allowed to work. The man has since been diagnosed with cancer, according to Stanton, but he hopes to still have a chance to “make a difference in the world.”
“I just want a place to do my research,” he told Stanton. “I learned today that I’m going to Troy, Michigan. I know nothing about it. I just hope that it’s safe and that it’s a place where they respect science. I just want to get back to work. I want to be a person again. I don’t want the world to think I’m over. I’m still here.”
Dozens of people left personal messages on the fundraising site, including a woman named Darlene Thorsen, who said she donated on behalf of her father, who is an immigrant from Bornholm, Denmark.
“(My father’s) children prospered and became scientists, mechanics, technicians and managers,” she said. “Thanks to the citizens for welcoming him.”
Norton said all of the money raised will help the father get medical treatment while he pursues his work and allow the family to build a stable life. Any excess or unused funds will go toward the other 11 families profiled in the HONY series, Norton said.
“… And as the Scientist beautifully expresses, to support his dream of contributing to the world,” Norton wrote. “Thanks to everyone who rallies together to create the power of the crowd. If enough of us kick in the price of two frappucinos, we can probably transform the experience of this family and show them that life can deliver healing and kindness, not just heartbreak.”
Locally, University of Michigan student and Troy resident Daniel Kang launched a GoFundMe to help the scientist.
Kang, who has raised almost $16,000, said he’s reached out to Humans of New York to figure out the next steps to ensure the family gets everything they need. Kang is now directing everyone to donate to the official fund-raiser.
“I just felt that it was something I could do,” Kang told the Free Press. “Seeing as this man is coming to my hometown … It just felt very personal.”
Follow Katrease Stafford on Twitter: @KatreaseS_freep