Photo: Melissa Phillip, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer
It was a heartfelt act of support that inspired Houston businessman Lê Hoàng Nguyên, to put up a Black Lives Matter billboard on Bellaire Boulevard.
"Having faced racism first hand over the years and especially having seen the recent social injustices in America, I used my personal funds to put a billboard that shares the message of Black Lives Matter," Nguyên wrote on Facebook. "I did not receive any outside funds. The opinion expressed is 100% my own."
Hoàng Nguyên said when he was only 8 years old, he escaped from Vietnam. He moved to America when he was 9 years old--without his parents. He remembers the one group that truly showed support for him at that time.
“I escaped Vietnam when I was an 8-year-old boy, and I languished in refugee camp in Malaysia for about 9 months," Nguyên said in a Facebook post. "Unbeknownst to that little 8-year-old boy, there was a group of black civil rights leaders who spoke out up for me. And they took out a full page in the New York Times on March, 19, 1978."
After placing the billboard, he was stunned by the reaction from some members in his community. Not all agreed with Nguyên. Some called for a boycott of his business, while others even called for his lynching.
"Not in a million years, did I think I would receive death threats," Nguyên said in a Facebook post after the billboard was erected. "There has been a public call for my lynching within my own Vietnamese community--a community that I love and a community that I have proudly served."
Nguyên said that he never casts judgement upon others' struggles.
"It is true, America is a great country and I am forever grateful to this land. I came here at 9 years old without my parents and worked hard to build an amazing life. And, I am very fortunate to have a beautiful family," Nguyên said. "However, I did not grow up with people who ran when they saw me. I did not have to fear for my life anytime I saw the police. I was never told I am worthless by those with different skin colors. I know that my life would have been a lot harder to build if I did. Who am I to judge the enduring challenges that others face?"
Some people applauded his public show of support, while others targeted him with criticism.
"Stay strong, Lê Hoàng Nguyên. You're doing the right thing and many Vietnamese Americans--and other Americans--support you whole-heartedly," Viet Nguyen wrote on Facebook.
"Thank you brother for your courage and bravery for taking a stance on justice and humanity! God Bless you and know that the Creator sees what you have done. Keep putting good Karma out in the universe," Velvet Toi wrote on Facebook.
"Thank you for your courage and compassion. And also for highlighting the situation of those that have been marginalized. Keep doing what you do and ignore those racist bigots. Thank you," wrote Paul D. Ung."
"Why the message, "Black Lives Matter" and not "All Lives Matter"? Because White Lives are not in the same danger right now. We don't complain when people raise awareness about breast cancer with "Fight breast cancer" and not "Fight all cancers," wrote Tuan Nguyen on FB.
Despite the backlash, Nguyên is determined to stand strong in the face of racial injustice. He said he had three goals in mind when he put up the billboard---"to show my public support for stopping all racism and injustice, to inspire future generations of leaders, and to speak up and to start the hard conversations about racism and injustice."
He says one message of wisdom he wants to share others is this insight by Alfred Adler:
“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.”
Nguyên intends his next billboard to honor first responders.