Afshin Ghazi's American dream began on bicentennial day, 1976.
That's when he and his mother, Mariam, immigrated to Washington, D.C. Ghazi was born overseas in a country he won't identify. He says he's been harassed about it. His father, a U.S. Air Force pilot, died when Ghazi was a month old, he said.
Ghazi's mother studied nursing at The Catholic University of America. When her son was 8, she married a doctor and moved the family to Louisville, Ky., where Ghazi grew up in a wealthy part of town with a younger brother, Armin, now 26, a stepbrother and stepsister.
Ghazi's high school principal recalls a student mature beyond his age and bolder than his peers. Returning from a senior trip, Ghazi marched to an airline ticket counter and switched his flight to the next day upon learning that the scheduled flight was full – a move that prompted a conference in the principal's office.
“He was just that adventurous,” Ted Boehm, a former principal of Louisville Male High School, said. “If he figures out a better way to do something that is different, he does it.”
Armin Ghazi said his older brother likely set a record for the number of times he was paddled in school. But instead of altering his behavior, he wore extra underwear.
Ghazi started a landscaping business in his teens, hired a few friends and soon was working at the homes of some of Louisville's most prominent doctors and biggest restaurateurs, Armin Ghazi recalled.
“He was … getting jobs he shouldn't be getting,” he said. “A lot of people saw that in him. We knew he was not a guy who would end up in the rat race.”
Ghazi spent a year at Hanover College and transferred to the University of Kentucky, where he studied marketing and management. Although he walked across the stage at graduation, he never received a degree because he didn't have enough freshman science credits, he said.
Ghazi spent much of his last semester researching the economy, finding that Miami, Houston and Charlotte had the country's hottest real estate markets.
He fell in love with Charlotte after a quick visit.
“You don't drive on highways everywhere,” he said. “The beauty of the trees, the landscape, the potential for growth was like a ‘duh.' At least from what I was accustomed to, it was heaven.”
Besides, Ghazi couldn't see himself as a Texan. And as for Miami: “Knowing my personality, I thought I could get into too much trouble there,” he said.