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Youth Voices: An Essay on the Importance of Representation

Ngabo enjoying a zipline adventure in his free time outside of school.

Photo: Talaka Paw


Kurota. In Kinyarwanda, my language, kurota means to dream. Coming to the United States as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I had big dreams of what life would be like in Dallas; what I found was something much different.

I began school as a sixth grader, and I still remember the first week of classes in great detail. I sat in my 3rd period history class and, while my English was limited, I understood the teacher was talking about slaves being brought from Africa. I panicked and immediately tried to communicate that I needed to use the restroom. After some back and forth, the teacher allowed me to go and I sprinted down the halls. “Was I wrong about America? Was I less of a person than anyone else in the room?” These thoughts flew around my head as I hid in the stall until class was over.

Ngabo and his friend kayak at White Rock Lake Photo: Alex Laywell

In my country, I grew up listening to my grandfather tell stories around the fire of great Congolese kings. The country had gone through hard times, but he reflected upon our rich and wonderful history. Yet, in the U.S., the only stories about Africa I was taught were on slavery, poverty, and disease. Where were the texts on the great cities of Africa? The stories of our unique cultures? The lessons on our heroic leaders of the past and present?

It frustrated me to see my people and my country portrayed so poorly. The difficulties must not be ignored, but they must also be joined with the beautiful successes and leaders from all over. It is important to study history from a holistic, global perspective.

Ngabo, right, volunteers for the IRC at a Northridge Presbyterian Back To School event Photo: Luke Boney

In an era when the United States debates the importance and symbolism of old statues, what better time to focus on the great African-American leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglas, and W.E.B. Du Bois, as well as great African leaders like Nelson Mandela, Mansa Musa I, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Living in this diverse country, it is important that we come together and better understand each other’s history. When we understand the history, we can understand everyone’s dream, everyone’s kurota.


Story by: Ngabo Mugisha


Ngabo and his family were resettled by the IRC in 2013. He is a junior at Emmett J. Conrad High School and enjoys playing soccer with his friends in his free time. After graduation, Ngabo plans to study political science.