Why I Am A Patriotic Millionaire: TJ Zlotnitsky


I immigrated to the United States from Israel when I was 12 years old. Like most illegal immigrants, my parents and I didn’t cross a border by foot. We flew in with a tourist visa, which we overstayed. But even though we were illegal, and even though my parents struggled to find work, I was able to get an education for free at a public school. I was able to learn english from ESOL classes, where a caring instructor, Mrs. Nunez, took personal interest in me and encouraged me. I was able to get subsidized lunch so I didn’t go hungry. When I wasn’t well, I was able to go to a public clinic. I ended up excelling as a student and an athlete, and getting a State of Maryland Senatorial scholarship, which I used to go to the University of Maryland at College Park.

Fast forward through my life. Today, I’m 42 years old, and I am a multimillionaire. I have started multiple businesses and sold several of them. I currently am a partner in a business I co-founded to which Goldman Sachs recently provided 20 million dollars in growth capital. I have dozens of employees throughout the U.S., whose average wage is nearly $90,000 (and where no one makes less than $18 an hour). My story wouldn’t be possible without the uniquely American combination of opportunity and public services that my family was able to tap into. I benefited tremendously from the safety net, from a society that was tolerant of me, from educators eager to see me succeed, from a system that enabled me to survive and thrive, and ultimately accomplish great things. And now I’m giving back. The investment America made in me, I’m paying back in spades, as many immigrants like me have done and will continue to do.  That’s why I am so determined to ensure those who come after me are just as welcomed and supported as I was.

My wife grew up as the daughter of a small business owner and a homemaker in Long Island, she was one of four girls. The first in her immediate family to go to college, she had the drive to continue on to law school, where she did very well, but wound up with serious student debt. Yet we were lucky. I’m an entrepreneur, she’s a federal attorney. Earning what we do, we were able to get ahead.

All successful people have these stories, even if they don’t realize it — even if they are not first generation immigrants like me. The public education system in this country, the infrastructure in this country, the civic institutions, make it possible for people with drive to achieve their dreams. I’ve been able to live my dreams. But I am worried that it may not remain that way much longer.

Others who work just as hard aren’t as fortunate. I think of my wife’s sisters, all wonderful, strong women, and their husbands, all exceptionally good men, hard working, family-oriented. They are wholesome Americans working hard in blue collar professions to raise their families. They represent a lot of what’s good in this country. And yet, it’s not easy for them. It shouldn’t be so hard to afford healthcare, to save for retirement, to put their kids to college without debt. It’s not hopeless, but it’s less hopeful than it could be, and should be.

I see people responding to Donald Trump, and it troubles me, but it doesn’t surprise me. It comes from a sense of frustration, a sense of helplessness that no matter how hard you work, you will not get ahead.  He may provide answers I think are false, but what’s true is that people are struggling and their pain is real. No political party or ideology has all the answers. It’s certainly not as simple as, “they took from us, so we’ll take it back” nor is it “government can solve everything.” Ultimately, there has to be a way to restore hope to millions of hard-working Americans through greater job security, affordable healthcare and higher education. There has to be a way to create opportunities to millions more who were born into lesser circumstances, tougher neighborhoods through head start programs, subsidized childcare, responsible policing, safer communities, a higher minimum wage. There has to be a way to make sure that immigrant stories like mine remain possible, by rejecting the narrative that immigration is a drag on the U.S, economy and the average American, when the opposite is true. There has to be a way to accomplish these things. As a Patriotic Millionaire, I feel obligated to help find that way.

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