Mohamed Sati had just finished final exams of his senior year of high school. Remember that feeling? Invincible – like anything is possible. Unfortunately, in Sudan in the 1990s, the possibilities also could be
Mo was on his way to visit his sister when makeshift soldiers with guns stopped him at a roadblock. The Second Sudanese Civil War was in full swing. At 17, with no official paperwork, no notice, and no recourse,
Mo was snatched up and forced into the army.
"Those are bad memories – really sad," he said. "To see kids your age – friends, family – they're with you one day then the next they're gone. Bright kids who had amazing futures ahead, but they didn't have that chance."
It's a long way from war-torn Sudan to a 29-story New York City high-rise, but that's where Mo sits today as an analyst in Home Solutions. We're all working to transform ourselves as we move toward Vision 2020, but
few have had as much experience at it as Mo. He has had to reinvent himself again and again to get to where he is today.
Back in Sudan that day in 1997, Mo was afraid he would be the next to suffer the fate of some of his classmates. It was a whirlwind "training" course – a gun placed in his hand and a few instructions. He was a
kid headed for the frontline of a war he didn't understand.
Just as he was about to be sent into the fray, some men came for Mo and a couple of other cadets, saying they were being transferred. Mo was skeptical. "I didn't know if they were legitimate," he said. Mo's instincts were right.
Once they were clear of the camp, the men came clean: "We know your family. We're getting you out."
"I felt so happy – there was now a chance for me. I felt sorry for my other friends who didn't make it," Mo said.
A second chance at life
Mo went underground – hurried out of the country in secret. He bounced from place to place before his brother was able to get him to India. It was there that Mo continued his education and fell in love with the world of telecommunications – convinced technology could make a better life not only for him, but for all those he left behind.
"For me, America was the way," Mo said. "I made it my life's goal to come here to build my career."
As soon as he became eligible, Mo began applying for a U.S. visa, but the odds, as always, seemed stacked against him. At the time, the U.S. granted 55,000 visas in an annual lottery to hopefuls like Mo – out of a pool of over 8 million entries worldwide. That's about one half of one percent of applicants. In 2002, Mo's number was called. The celebration was brief, though, as bureaucratic issues left his precious visa buried in red tape.
"That was the most devastating part of my life," he recalled. "I got it! Finally, I'm going! But my chance got turned down."
Mo went home to Sudan, even though he had planned never to return. The war had ended and things were stable. It was time to give back.
"I returned to do what I could for my family," Mo said. "I helped build a telecommunications company from the ground up, giving me a taste for the rewards of innovation and entrepreneurship. It was a great feeling to contribute something to my country, but I continued to seek out opportunities to emigrate to the U.S. I never lost hope. I kept applying."
Against all odds: another chance
Whoever said that lightning never strikes in the same place twice didn't have the faith and perseverance of Mohamed Sati. In 2006, against all odds, Mo won the visa lottery again. This time, he found himself on a plane to America.
"So joyful. So excited on that airplane. I knew about America. I watched movies, I learned the history, but to actually be going? It was one of the most amazing moments of my life," he said.
Mo finished his Master's degree in telecommunications, and in August 2010, he was offered a job as an account representative with AT&T. Mo didn't know anyone at the company. No friends or relatives at AT&T… no recruiters or special programs. Mo got the job the way he did everything in life: he worked hard and kept trying – finding the job directly through the AT&T career site.
"It told me that AT&T is truly an equal opportunity employer," Mo said. "My career here represents the embodiment of the American opportunity. Working for AT&T is no longer my dream; it is reality."
Inspiration? He can help you with that
After five years, Mo is thriving in his career and as a role model for many.
"My family is large, and scattered all over the world," he said. "My career gives my nieces and nephews something to aspire to. It gives my friends who have faced war and deprivation a model for a different kind of life."
In March 2012 Mo was sworn in as an American citizen on what he calls his "happiest day." Soon after, he went to the polls to vote for the first time in his life. It overwhelmed him: "I'm a person. I have a vote. My opinion matters."
And he hopes his story matters.
"Sometimes people here in the U.S. don't realize what they have – how blessed they are to be born here. I hope I can give them motivation. There's no barrier. There's no limit. If you have a goal in life, you will definitely make it."