This is the second in a series of columns about people who manage to make things happen. If there are people you know who just find a way to get things done, tell us about them so we can share their stories with our readers.
THERE WAS a moment right after Sultan died when everything seemed to stop.
Sultan Jihad Ahmad, at 15, was the son his parents, Harriet and Sultan Sr., had prayed for. The boys who killed him that day in Hunting Park will never understand what they took from them.
Family and friends were at the parents' sides before the shock wore off. They offered compassion and sympathy. But they could never really understand.
"People say 'I know what you're going through,' Sultan Ahmad said wistfully. "They mean well. But . . . "
But the healing balm was not in their kind words and heartfelt sympathy. Harriet and Sultan needed the fellowship of people who had suffered the same kind of life-altering loss as they had.
That's how it started. The Sultan Jihad Ahmad Foundation is an outgrowth of his parents' need to stand with others who had to endure the same agony.
"They called me a funeral chaser," Ahmad recalled. "Sometimes there would be two or three a week. My staff at the Mayor's Office of Community Services would clip the funeral notices and I'd go.
"I reached out to fathers. Some of them didn't even know that it was all right for men to cry. My wife met with mothers who had lost their children.
"She just did her ninth annual breakfast with the mothers. She had nearly 90 there this year."
The shotgun blast that killed their son in 1992 extinguished a light. But it ignited a fire that has grown into a community-wide movement.
They still hold the annual banquets in his name. They have honored him by awarding almost $200,000 in scholarships since 1993.
Their first project was a movement to clean and restore Hunting Park, where Sultan died.
"The prostitutes and weed houses had taken over," Ahmad recalled. "Mayor Rendell and city officials helped us. But it was mainly the community.
"That's what got us through - faith, family and community in that order.
"As a Muslim, I had to wash and prepare my son to return to God. I came to understand that we were just custodians. He was not ours.
"We're taught that after disaster comes relief. But you have to move toward the relief.
"So we adopted schools. We donated 100 books for a library at Sultan's school, did block clean-ups, re-entry programs for guys getting out of prison.
"We didn't know where we were going. We just knew we had to do something. After awhile a light came on. We said we needed to build an institution to expand this thing."
Actually, they're re-building an institution. The old Opportunities Industrialization Center's crumbling building at 19th and Oxford streets is being renovated as a multipurpose community center.
"I retired five years ago," Ahmad said. "We started working on this a year later. We had hoped to raise $1.9 million. But we couldn't do it.
"So we started scaling back from the Cadillac to a good-running Chevy. The vision now is to create sound interactions and safe havens for seniors and kids. We're looking at doing vocational programs to follow Rev. Leon Sullivan's self-help model.
"We want to develop a senior day-care center and after-school programs with computer rooms.
"I devote all my time to this now. I've got a good pension and Social Security. I'm not here for money. We don't get paid for what we do."
The old brown-brick building has a new face. The bricks have been pointed; the sidewalk was repaved. The 69 windows have been restored to the precise standards of the city's Historical Commission.
Harriet and Sultan still don't know where the money to operate it will come from.
"We'll get it," he said. "I know it sounds crazy the way nonprofits are struggling today.
"But I have a good name. I had 25 years of government service and dealing with corporate people. I know how to do things. We'll get it done"
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