FARGO, ND – From the Middle East to the Midwest, Lezan Tahir’s parents sacrificed everything by fleeing the Gulf War, and it resulted in their son leading a better way of life than they could have ever imagined.
When Nidar Muhammed first set foot on American soil in 1991, she was consumed with fear. It was in the dead of night, at the height of what had become a brutal and unforgiving Gulf War in the Middle East. The teenage Kurdish refugee and her husband had been whisked away on a military plane only hours earlier, and it had landed in a place that was completely foreign to them. They didn’t know a soul, apart from each other.
Muhammed remembers what it was like as she hesitantly stepped onto the tarmac: Heart and mind racing, eyes darting to and fro in search of a threat, and arms trembling uncontrollably as she clutched her baby boy tightly to her chest. This was it. Either they were standing at the doorstep to the land of the free – or the precipice of something unimaginably sinister, courtesy of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
The couple had no idea that they had just arrived at Nashville (TN) International Airport. A better way of life was in store from then on out, and they couldn’t even begin to imagine what that would mean for the future of their infant son, let alone those who would be fortunate enough to cross his path.
As Muhammed and her husband shuffled onward toward the terminal ahead, the horror they had escaped in the war-torn Middle East refused to leave their memories: The confusion turned to panic as mustard gas canisters tumbled into villages. The men and boys taken as their families fled. The elderly and handicapped abandoned in the chaos. The mysterious red bumps that covered their precious boy from head to toe, an affliction they later learned was the result of a poisoned food supply.
Not to mention, the family had been wasting away in a Turkish war camp, the epitome of a living nightmare that had dragged out for four agonizing years – until one day – when chains at the compound’s front gate suddenly broke apart and frantic emissaries with the United Nations poured in with a message: “We’re here to get you out, but we need to move quickly!”
Muhammed, her husband and the other refugees had initially been hesitant when faced with this supposed salvation, and for good reason. It mirrored a heartless tactic that had been previously deployed by Hussein himself, an act of deceit designed to lure thousands of hope-filled refugees back to their beloved Kurdistan, where they would ultimately come face-to-face with the cruelty carried out by the war criminal’s soldiers.
These memories were excruciating, almost too much to bear, but Muhammed and her husband somehow found the strength to keep moving forward on the airfield – and that’s when the unexpected happened.
As hangar doors opened in front of them, a crowd of Kurdish-born U.S. citizens who had fled persecution years prior came rushing out to welcome their newly arrived brethren. The group knew all too well what anxieties tormented the minds of Muhammed and her husband, and they quickly shouted assurances to alleviate the couple’s terror. “Ne Tirsin! Hûn li Amerîkayê ne – hûn azad in!” (“Don’t be scared! You’re in America – you’re free!”)
Muhammed and her husband breathed a sigh of relief – they were finally safe. And as their exhausted family huddled together for a long and emotional hug, some of the welcomers stepped closer and asked what the miracle baby’s name was. Overjoyed, Muhammed was more than happy to respond.
“Lezan,” she choked through happy tears. “His name is Lezan.”
Fast-forward the clock to July 15, 2021. It was a seemingly average day at Gate City Bank’s downtown Fargo location, and Lezan Tahir was happily working the front counter when one of his regular customers strolled through the door. After sharing a friendly greeting and asking how he could help, the customer handed over some money to deposit into an account. Upon accepting it, Tahir nonchalantly took a few steps back and proceeded to complete a full-on backflip before processing the check in the bank’s system.
As giggles from Tahir’s fellow team members echoed throughout the lobby, he did his best to keep his composure for a nearby camera. He’s normally not big into being the center of attention, but it was worth caving in this case. Ever since the bank’s social media team had caught wind that he could perform the high-difficulty maneuver, they had been begging him to show it to the world.
“Just another day at Gate City Bank!” Tahir later captioned while sharing the video on his Facebook page. To this day, the post most definitely stands out from his usual activity, most of which involves him geeking out about the awesome customer promotions the bank offers. When it comes to creating a better way of life for those around him, Tahir is always willing to bend over backwards, especially when it relates to opening a checking account – because it’s the start of something new.
“I always tell my team that opening a new checking account is one of my favorite things. It allows you to sit down and just talk to a customer and get to know them. You have their full attention, one on one,” says Tahir, Senior Customer Service & Sales Supervisor. “You never know who’s across from you. There’s just so much good that can come from that conversation, and that’s one of the many things I love about Gate City Bank. They encourage us to get to know our customers with those types of interactions.”
And as it turns out, there’s another reason why Tahir was happy to perform his bank-themed backflip: Had things turned out differently when he was a baby, he might not be where he is today. A mix of joyful and haunting thoughts flood his mind whenever he runs his hand across the back of his head, where the scars from his red bumps as a child serve as a daily reminder of the persecution his family faced all those years ago. There could have easily been neurological damage, loss of motor function or worse.
He’s thankful to be alive.
Because of his miraculous health, U.S. citizenship and so many other blessings, Tahir has embraced a new lease on life from a young age, starting with his love for athletics. When his family eventually settled in Moorhead, MN, he quickly developed an aptitude for football, and went on to play for Moorhead High School, Minnesota State University Moorhead and the Fargo Invaders. As a kicker, he developed the teamwork and leadership skills that would later become crucial in his career at Gate City Bank.
But it’s when Tahir discovered his love for music that he really hit his stride. It all started around the time he was 16, when he attended a wedding and noticed that some of his extended family members were performing traditional Kurdish music during the reception. Tahir was immediately drawn to the sound of his uncle’s keyboard, and at the end of the night, asked if he could try playing it for himself. His uncle, being a generous man, gifted him the instrument on the spot.
“This thing was nice. We’re talking $1,000, easy. I was worried I was going to break it,” Tahir says. “Plus, I had never learned music. To this day, I’ve never taken a single lesson, and I can’t even read music. But I soon learned that if I listened to something – almost anything – I could play it. It’s crazy.”
As the years went on, Tahir practiced constantly, and it didn’t take long for one of his cousins to join in. And before the two of them knew it, they were scheduling gigs together. Weddings, birthday parties, community events – you name it. From nursing homes to the Fargodome, no get-together was too big or too small. To this day, the duo doesn’t even have a name for their band, but word gets around.
Case in point: One day, he was opening a checking account for a customer associated with The Arts Partnership, a Fargo-based nonprofit that promotes local artists from multiple backgrounds. As the two of them were chatting, Tahir described how he enjoyed playing the keyboard in his free time, especially traditional Kurdish music. That started their friendship off on a high note.
“Gate City Bank and our local communities are so welcoming of other cultures, and this woman exemplified that. She was like, ‘You two should come play at Fargo International Airport!’” Tahir says. “My cousin and I ended up agreeing to it, and our performance even made the local news. I still get customers who come in and say, ‘Hey, I saw you on TV. You’re famous!’ It’s 100% a hobby, but it’s been really amazing.”
Those types of customer and team member interactions are Tahir’s favorite part of the job at Gate City Bank. He loves finding opportunities to get to know people better, and he treats everyone like family. He’s also thankful that that level of care and support is a core part of the company’s beautiful culture, and can be found at every location.
“Everyone at Gate City Bank just works so well as a team. I can’t say enough about it,” Tahir says. “I feel like I can reach out to anybody in any situation, even if it’s personal. And the team members who report to me know that the same goes for them. Everyone’s on the same mission. Everyone’s growing together.”
In light of the many areas of life where Tahir shines, one of the things that’s perhaps most noticeable about him is his knack for winning people over in a short amount of time. For example, after only two years of serving as part-time customer service representative, his manager saw something special and promoted him to his full-time supervisor role. And shortly after his daughter and son were born, he quickly turned them into Gate City Bank fans for life. “My wife is pretty pro-Gate City, too,” he chuckles.
The list goes on and on.
But there’s one person who stands out in an extra special way, someone who was with Tahir at the very beginning. Indeed, Nidar Muhammed remembers what it was like when she first met her son all those years ago. Despite having given birth alone in a cold, dark gymnasium at that awful camp, she was beaming at the time. Because when she looked into her baby’s eyes, she saw warmth, goodness and hope for the future – a brave new world.
“I’m so glad we sacrificed everything for our children to have a better life, and that my son now gets to live that out through those around him,” she says. “I’m so proud of Lezan. He’s a good kid, a good dad, a good husband, a good worker and a good man. He’s our family’s role model, and he lifts our heads.”
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