Our highly anticipated Walk of Courage Award Gala on June 19th is nearly a month away. This is your chance to make a difference in the lives of refugees and support their courageous journey while enjoying ethnic food, drinks, music, and dance. If you haven’t bought your ticket yet, you can do so here.
Present at the Gala will be refugees who, through tremendous determination, have become leaders in politics, sports, the arts, journalism, modeling, and their local communities, making headlines across our country.
Mawi Asgedom, educator and author of eight books, will be the Gala’s Master of Ceremonies. Asgedom fled civil war in Ethiopia and survived a Sudanese refugee camp. Overcoming poverty, language barriers and personal tragedy, he graduated from Harvard University, where he gave the commencement address, and shared his story of courage and hope with Oprah. Oprah was so inspired she labeled his interview as one of her “Top 20 Moments,” saying, “Mawi walked across the desert. What do you mean it can’t be done?”
Below is an interview with Asgedom, conducted by Media Relations Specialist, Clarissa Perkins.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): Tell us about your journey from Ethiopia to the United States.
Mawi Asgedom (MA): There was a thirty-year civil war between Ethiopia and Eritrea and my family became refugees to Sudan. After surviving in a refugee camp for three years, we were resettled to the United States by World Relief in 1983.
CP: How did you react when you found out you were coming to the United States?
MA: The reaction was a combination of hope and fear. Hope for a better life, for peace, and for new opportunity. Fear of the unknown, of leaving our friends, family and culture behind – potentially forever.
CP: What was it like to grow up in Chicago as a new American?
MA: My family was resettled outside of Chicago in a town called Wheaton. We met many kind and generous Americans who welcomed us and helped us. Our biggest challenges including learning English, getting bullied at school, and for my parents, finding work and a way to support our family.
CP: What did you find most challenging growing up?
MA: The loss of my best friend, my older brother Tewolde, to a drunk driver when Tewolde was in high school.
CP: When you first arrived, what surprised you most about life in the United States?
MA: Probably the cold. We had never seen snow before, and the first winter we came to America was one of the worst in the history of Chicago.
CP: As you look at your accomplishments, what do you see as your biggest success?
MA: My biggest success is in how Mawi Learning empowers youth through our leadership trainings. We are working with districts across North America and to date have helped over 1,000,000 students develop the bedrock character and leadership skills for success. More specifically, we help students develop skills like goal setting, time management, resilience, and service.
CP: What is the most important message in your story?
MA: That in life, we can all make a choice to see invisible people. My book is called Of Beetles and Angels because many people are treated like beetles throughout their lives, and we all have the opportunity to see beetles as angels.
CP: What does walking alongside migrants and refugees mean to you?
MA: It means developing genuine relationships and providing resources to help with adjustment. One of the biggest ways Mawi Learning supports migrants and refugees is through our education programs. For example, our Super ELL class is the first program that addresses the unique social and emotional learning needs of English Language Learners (ELL), and it is being used by schools to help ELL student succeed. I was formerly an ELL student myself so it is more than gratifying to help other ELL students.
CP: How would you encourage Americans to reach out to immigrants?
MA: Develop relationships. Let’s not view people as “immigrants’ but as our friends.
CP: What do you appreciate about living in the United States now?
MA: If your perception of Americans was driven by what the media reported, you’d think we were a country full of angry, partisan people. But that’s not what I’ve seen as I’ve given more than 1,000 speeches in more than 40 states these past fifteen years. This country is full of kind, generous people of all races and backgrounds who are investing in their families and communities. My favorite part of living here is all the kind and warm people I’ve been lucky enough to meet.
To hear Asgedom’s inspiring story of determination for yourself, come to the Walk of Courage Award Gala on June 19th in Baltimore, Maryland. Click here to purchase a ticket. If you can’t attend but still want to make an important difference in the lives of thousands of refugees rebuilding their lives in the United States, you can still buy a ticket here.