Nathan's Story Continued...
Nathan, and his family, escaped to the neighboring West African country of Ivory Coast. Yet further turmoil followed with cross border attacks between Ivory Coast and Liberia.
As a result, they eventually settled in Ghana, a more liberating country for refugees. However, strict labor laws in Ghana made it difficult to find work. Stateless for ten years, Nathan’s only hope for sustained peace was to reunite with his mother in the United States who had moved some 17 years earlier for health reasons.
In 2000 Nathan, and several of his siblings, finally joined their mother.
“Coming to the United States was the best thing that ever happened to us from being refugees and seeing carnage, death, wanton destruction and lack of humanity.” He describes their first meeting as surreal.
“I had to pinch myself a bunch of times that I was safe.”
Now a Master Sergeant in the Rhode Island National Guard, Nathan serves the country that has supported his wildest dreams.
“My mother established from the get-go that we had actually reached America. It was the safest shores anyone could ever want in their entire lives. You can do anything you want. You can get anywhere you want to go.
It was ingrained in us from our rearing that we needed to contribute to where we stayed and we needed to make this country our home. And we have.”
Upon first arriving, Dorcas International helped Nathan to further his education and find work that would fulfill his desire to serve at the cornerstone of social justice.
“Everything I’ve done so far is treating people with that human decency. Understanding maybe other people need a nudge, an edge, or some basic ceiling to cross over and if you’re that helping hand; that conduit; that person; that institution; or your that organization, you can help people to get to where they need to be.
Ultimately, we are all humans regardless of where we come from. If we had that basic understanding, life would be easier.”
Serving in the U.S. Army, in both Iraq and Kuwait, gave Nathan a whole different perspective. He had both lived and been in war. His service helped him to bridge the gap between the two worlds.
“I knew that I had settled and I was at peace. That I could serve something much bigger than I was.”
His military background, as well as personal experiences in time of trauma, gives him a unique view of the current pandemic. He advises, “be patient and understand that things will get better.
Understand that people are working behind the scenes to get us to where we need to be.”
Serving overseas also fostered his desire to mentor youth. As Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Liberian Community Association of Rhode Island, he helps to advance the economic and socio-political needs of Liberians. Partnering with local police, military, governmental agencies and nonprofits, Nathan and its members address challenges on behalf of their community.
The fundamental lessons he strives to teach our youth, along with his own children, include developing a sense of respect for authority, morality and service.
“I want my wildest dreams to be my children’s reality,” he says.
Nathan shares his story in hopes he can change the perspective of some people born here who feel systemically wronged. “I want others to know we come from other countries, but we are Americans. We love this country. We’d do everything for this country. We would go back to war. We would die.”
“I’ve had the opportunity to serve with people of different backgrounds, different religions, different sexual preferences and different races. I’d do it all again, for this county and the flag.”
He stresses that immigrants and refugees, wishing to come here, are faced with a very long process of background checks, interviews, intrusive medical procedures and cultural orientations. These systems are in place for proper checks and balances. It’s not a quick, and seamless journey, as some might believe.
Despite the twists and turns Nathan’s life has taken, he feels fortunate that he lives in a country that provides opportunity, regardless of upbringing.
Yet the one aspect he misses of home is “time.” He recalls playing board games, as a way to get to know others better. Similar to the early days of the pandemic – when our routines significantly slowed – it gave us time to examine which of our aspirations matter most. And to Nathan, it’s service, morality and respect, above all.
-- By Alli-Michelle Conti
Photography by Rythum Vinoben