Photographer and Oromo refugee
“I came to the United States when I was 3. My family came because there was conflict in my country and Oromo people were being persecuted. The biggest obstacle for me as an immigrant has been fitting in and overcoming stereotypes.
“Growing up, I didn’t feel like I fit in with the kids who were black. I’m African and that always made me feel like I wasn’t black enough. Society portrays refugees as if we are all the same. It’s interesting considering that my friends and I don’t come from the same place, and our countries’ languages are different. We just grew up under the same circumstances, being stereotyped and put into boxes. That experience is what makes us the same.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t realize that this desire to fit in was something that so many other people experienced. I never directly confronted these misconceptions until recently. People from all cultures and backgrounds go through obstacles and, to empower refugee youth in a country full of political tension, we need to find a way for everybody to connect so that they know they aren’t going through this alone.
“I am also very motivated by stories. They give me the drive to be successful and create change. I often hear stories about people who have suffered through years of trials and tribulations. They come out with scars, but they become much stronger people because of it. That’s why I love studying social justice; no matter what’s going on, people continue to have resilience and strength so they can fight back. When I hear about these struggles, I want to help. I like to think that whatever I do, God has my back. So, whatever happens is his plan. In the meantime, resilience is powerful. You have to accept that life is full of tough situations. The important thing is how you will go forward when it’s all said and done.”