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Another Voice: Buffalo's welcome mat helps Rwandan refugee to thrive

By Rubens Mukunzi

I’ll never forget the day in 2015 when Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash came to my office, excited to talk with my team at Karibu News, the newspaper I publish for local immigrants and refugees. Since the paper is published in seven languages, Superintendent Cash thought it would make a perfect teaching tool for young immigrants in the school system.

Only two years earlier, I arrived in Buffalo as a refugee from Rwanda. In addition to running the paper, I had a night job at a cleaning company. Now one of the city’s most powerful officials was recognizing my hard work and hoping to raise the voices of new Americans like me. As a result of our conversation, I dedicated an entire section of the paper to student work, enabling many young immigrants and refugees to share their experiences with the community.

This is the Buffalo I have come to know. It’s a place where Mayor Byron Brown meets regularly with new Americans and tells them he wants them to feel at home. It’s a place where my U.S.-born neighbors brought gifts to my 7-year-old son, after he was finally permitted to come from Rwanda to join me this summer.

So I was thrilled to learn that Buffalo was recently recognized by the bipartisan, nonprofit New American Economy organization for its inclusive policies. NAE’s recently released Cities Index survey measures how well city policies are helping to integrate immigrants. Buffalo ranked 32nd out of the nation’s 100 largest cities, receiving top scores in the categories of government leadership and supportive legal environment.

As Buffalo leaders understand, immigrants and refugees are spurring economic growth. Between 2000 and 2014, the foreign-born population grew by 32.3 percent, significantly helping to reduce the city’s population decline. Many of us are creating our own jobs. In 2014, 9.1 percent of the city’s foreign-born were self-employed, compared with 6.5 percent of U.S.-born residents.

I currently employ four full-time newspaper staff members and 10 freelance contributors, in addition to mentoring a large number of interns and students. I’m also expanding Karibu News into a nonprofit entity, African-American Baobab Inc., which aims to promote cultural and social exchange between African-Americans and Buffalonians of non-African descent. Next month, I’m launching my own cleaning company, and plan to hire three or four employees.

Before I came to the United States in 2013, I was a journalist in Rwanda. But when I published stories that were critical of the government, I started receiving threats. I fled the country and gained asylum in the United States. Best of all, I settled in Buffalo – a place where I can speak my mind and know that people will listen.

Rubens Mukunzi is the publisher of Karibu News, soon to become African-American Baobab Inc.

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