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Stories of Welcome

A refugee helps his American friend realize the value of his voice

Multimedia Producer, International Rescue Committee
Digital Content Officer, International Rescue Committee

Tecle Gebremicheal and Ryan Peck ran for the same city council seat in Boise, Idaho last November. A campaign that could have been a competition turned into a collaboration—and a lasting friendship.

Tecle, 29 and an International Rescue Committee staff member, became the first refugee from Africa to run for city council in Boise. He arrived in Boise in August 2012 from Ethiopia with little more than two pairs of shoes and a determination to give back to the country that welcomed him.

He has already given back in many ways, including joining the U.S. Army Reserves, interning at the Idaho Statehouse, coaching high school soccer and tutoring students.

Tecle’s campaign platform focused on affordable housing, public transportation and public safety for locals and new Americans. Ryan, who is an educator and the founder of a music school, ran on similar issues with a special lens on youth. Tecle and Ryan talk about how they first met, the things they have in common, and the value of each other’s voice in the political arena.

Tecle Gebremicheal, left, and Ryan Peck first met when they ran for the same city council seat in Boise, Idaho last November.

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

Ryan: I met [Tecle] after the campaign had started. We have a lot of mutual friends and mutual acquaintances. So I reached out … and we chatted. And I was just like, oh my gosh, this guy is so awesome; he’s going to be a friend. So that’s how we met.

Tecle: I was really surprised to be friends with Ryan…

Ryan: Most people are.

Tecle: [Laughs.] We all know the political environment in the U.S., but in Boise, it’s been different. We felt we needed to work together.

Ryan: I was really nervous about [the campaign] because I don't consider myself a politician. I'd much rather be sort of behind the scenes. But Tecle helped me realize the value of my voice and the value of his voice. He reaffirmed my values, my work and why I decided to run in the first place.

Tecle arrived in Boise in August 2012 with little more than two pairs of shoes and the dream of becoming an American. Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

Tecle’s voice is of a new American. That's the value. I love creative entrepreneurship. So I love when people take ideas that are in their head and they make them a reality. New Americans have the highest rate of entrepreneurship. That’s literally what drives our economic ecosystem and cultural backbone.

Tecle: People don't really understand who refugees are, why they are here or what they are doing. I was asked how I can run for office if I’m a refugee. People don’t know how refugees become citizens. There are a lot of negative narratives. I made it a goal to educate and engage with the Boise community.

It’s important to have refugees and other new American voices because they bring forth issues most of our other elected officials don’t really relate to, like housing, public transportation and public safety.

Refugees are people who run from their own government, from their own people, and often from their own family for many reasons, and they are here in the new country, new language, new food and a new government system. How do you build that trust between these two communities? 

People don't really understand who refugees are...I made it a goal to educate and engage with the Boise community.

Ryan: Can you imagine? I'm trying to imagine...what if all of a sudden, things went bonkers here and I was flown over to a different country and just dropped off. I would hope that there are people on the other end that would meet me with empathy and understanding and compassion because we are all in it together.

And, like I said before, voices like Tecle’s are needed in this country. Tecle’s story is of service. City council is a service, joining the army is a service, working at the Statehouse is a service, coaching and teaching is a service. It's a story of gratitude and humility and real spirit and honesty.

Tecle: I think as soon as I landed in Boise, I recognized that now I am starting a new life and a real life actually. And that's really what I'm trying to do right now in this city, just making sure that we're not leaving people behind.

Ryan: Tecle and I share an interest in supporting the youth in our community.

Tecle, left and Ryan go running at a park in Boise.

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

Tecle: Yeah, I was really inspired by Ryan’s platform on youth issues—they are our future. I know we'll be focusing on these issues together. When I met Ryan, I know we can work together, whatever the outcome.

Ryan: I know I could work with you as well. You should come to a music class.

Tecle: Yeah, I need to learn more about music.

Ryan: We try to get a lot of new American refugee kids there. It would be cool if you were there. You could be the kid wrangler. Keep them from, like, you know, pushing over the drum kit. [Laughs.] We definitely have a lot of mutual interests. We both love running.

Voices like Tecle’s are needed in this country. Tecle’s story is of service...It's a story of gratitude and humility and real spirit and honesty.

Tecle: Running is a big part of my life. I love people who love running.

Ryan: We talked about going for a run after the election is over. If Tecle wins, I am going to jump in an Uber and give him the biggest hug. And probably break down and cry.

We're all in this together and it pulls us into this great mesh of connection between us all and that is one of the most life affirming values you'll ever encounter.

Editor’s note: Tecle came in fourth place while Ryan came in second in the 2019 Boise City Council election. Despite the loss, the two will continue to work together to help create a prosperous Boise for its residents.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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