By Erika Sanzi
In light of President Trump’s recent—and disgusting—comments about immigrants from Africa, Haiti and any other countries he considers to be “shitholes”, I have been reflecting on so many wonderful people from the very places that he chose to insult. People who are more optimistic, grateful, hardworking, and kind than pretty much anybody I’ve ever met, let alone the current leader of the free world. One young Rhode Island man in particular stands out in my mind. He is a double refugee who arrived to Providence, Rhode Island only a few short years ago after a life of strife and struggle that most of us, including the President, can’t even fathom. He is someone whose story I have shared with my own three sons because of how remarkable he is in both spirit and strength. Despite his own enormous challenges, he is driven by a desire to give back to those in need.
I met Knight Jean Yves Muhingabo when I visited Central High School last year—he was my tour guide throughout the visit. He caught my attention again when he testified in front of the House Finance Committee in support of the RI Promise program and then, again, when he was awarded one of five $20,000 Roger Williams scholarships from the Rhode Island Foundation.
I have decided to re-share his testimony in front of the statehouse from March as well as his comments about his scholarship today, the very same day that so many people with stories like his are reeling from the President’s heartless and bigoted comments.
If only we had a President more like this young man and less like the one we must currently endure.
My name is Night Jean Yves Muhingabo, I am a senior at Central High school. It is my pleasure to be here this evening. If I may, I want to tell you a little about myself. First, I am a proud refugee from Rwanda. For the majority of my childhood I was raised in a refugee camp called Camp Kintele. It was there where I worked 17 hours a day to provide for my family. And through it all, I never stopped believing in the American dream.
Two years ago, I have gotten closer to that dream. I was able to relocate to Rhode Island, from Rwanda, where I have been an active student at Central High School in Providence. Since coming here I have not only worked hard to catch up to my peers, but I have worked tirelessly to further my dream to attend college in the United States. My dream has always been to come to the United States to receive an education. I have hopes of becoming an electrical engineer so that I can not only make a difference here, but to one day bring electricity to my homeland Brazzaville Congo.
Recently, however, I have experienced how expensive college really is. Over the past few months, I have spent countless days in the college room at Central High School school. And with the help of the college advisors, I have analyzed every number and detail of every financial aid letter that I have received. And what I have quickly learned is that college is just too expensive for me and my family.
I say all of this for you not to pity me, but for you to give me a chance. I want every lawmaker here to know that I am hungry enough to change not only my future but for my families as well. I have a lot faith in what a college degree can do for me, and with the help of the RI Promise Scholarship, I hope the road ahead will be a little easier to walk.
Putting aside the politics of the program he was supporting, I can’t imagine someone in whom I’d be more honored to invest, more honored to welcome into a country whose promise of opportunity and freedom should be no more mine than his.
And from his scholarship application:
“I strongly believe that that’s what Roger Williams represented: promoting freedom, creating leaders in our communities, and loving each other. It is a value to me for life, and that is where I stand,” he said.
In his application, Muhingabo had this to say about the impact Roger Williams still has today.
“I have learned that Roger Williams was a remarkable man who, like me, lived in the spirit of his community and beliefs. He did not believe in separation, but instead he believed in freedom of religion and that individuals should be free to follow their own convictions,” he wrote. “When I came to the United States as a refugee, my community helped me. I had the opportunity to learn American culture. After a year of improving my English, embracing the community values of Roger Williams, I began to give back. I volunteered at the Refugee Dream Center as an interpreter for the refugees because they could not speak English.”
So Knight, thank you for again providing me and my readers’ inspiration and hope on yet another day when there is none to be found in the Oval Office.
I will leave you with the powerful words of Ronald Reagan in 1988:
America represents something universal in the human spirit. I received a letter not long ago from a man who said, ‘You can go to Japan to live, but you cannot become Japanese. You can go to France to live and not become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey, and you won’t become a German or a Turk.’ But then he added, ‘Anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American.
I am a Mom. Former educator. Former school board member. Education advocate. I have three school aged boys and spent a decade working in schools on both coasts. I’ve worked with wealthy and poor, black and white, urban and suburban and to me the truth is quite simple: education is a fundamental right and an issue of social justice and equality. It’s my hope I can use my voice to help us get to the place where every child can easily say, “my school is awesome” and that their parents can agree.