HOUSTON — A Houston businessman is defending his decision to purchase a local Black Lives Matters billboard despite public pressure to have the message changed or the ad completely removed.
Le Hoang Nguyen, the owner of a local insurance and real-estate agency, put up the billboard last month near Bellaire Boulevard and Boone Road in southwest Houston.
Nguyen said he bought the billboard to show solidarity with Black community, to inspire the future generation of leaders and to start the hard conversation of racism and injustice in the United States.
“It is not a political message. It does not support any particular organization. It supports the simple idea of the Black Lives Matter movement to stop racism and injustice for all,” Nguyen said in an official statement.
The billboard has been met with polarized response within days of going up, Nguyen said.
He said there has been death threats against him, calls to boycott his business within the Vietnamese community if he doesn’t take it down and pressure to change the message to “All Lives Matter,” a term often used to dismiss claims of systemic prejudice against the African-American community.
“When your entire life, 50 years that you’ve worked so hard to build, to share gets unfairly, unjustly judged, convicted and executed– lynching – in the court of public opinion, it hurts. It hurts,” Nguyen said in a video.
He has also gotten praise for personally funding the billboard.
Nguyen said his solidarity with the Black community stems from more than a commitment to fighting social injustice but also his firsthand experience with prejudice as a Vietnamese-American. He mentioned being called names and being barred from job opportunities as examples.
Nguyen was a child when his father was jailed after the fall of Sai Gon and his family was forced to leave Viet Nam in 1978, according to a Facebook video. Nguyen said while at a Kota Bahru refugee camp a group of Black leaders offered him and others encouragement and support.
“They spoke up on our behalf when we had no voice,” Nguyen said in another video. “Their compassion taught me how to be empathetic towards our fellow human begins.”
The group took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, asking the American government to take in refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia who were living in make-shift camps throughout non-communist Asia.
The article brought awareness to the refugees who faced social-ostracism, poverty and possibly death if deported back to their homelands.
Nguyen said he has accomplished his goal to build awareness and spark conversation and the billboard will be changed to a message supporting first responders will be installed soon.
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