Why I’m Running for US Congress: These Lessons I Learned Through Two Years of Homelessness

As much as I bring up the urgency of getting over the political and social divides and to instead value our common humanity, there was a time not too long ago where I viewed life through a polar opposite lens. Of course, I did not realize it back then when I saw myself as a partisan who made it my point to “take the fight to the other side”—I thought I was doing my part to advance justice.

It took two and a half years of homelessness starting in 2015 for me to realize that human suffering doesn’t differentiate based on our differences. One particular instance at Greenville Rescue Mission in South Carolina shed the blinders of tribalism from my eyes and forever changed my social and political views. It was a day like every other where the specter of deficiency and despair was hanging over my fellow “invisible citizens” who were forced to sleep on sidewalks and struggling to escape the abyss of poverty.

Except this day was different because the minute I sat down to eat breakfast in the cafeteria, I looked up only to see a young white girl who could not be older than my nieces and nephews amid a sea of destitute faces. Instantly, I started sobbing as the image of a young child being caught up in the bleakness of a homeless shelter shattered my heart in a thousand pieces. I struggled to eat that morning as a pool of tears formed by my feet while the memory of the young girl was being stenciled in my mind in ways I think about to this day.

From that moment on, I could never look at the struggles that so many people are enduring through the endless ways we are sliced and diced as Americans. This is not to say that I am not mindful of the historical injustices that have been borne by African-Americans, Native-Americans and countless other marginalized communities in this country’s history; however, my encounter with the young white girl in Greenville made me realize in the starkest ways that acknowledging pains of people does not have to come at the cost of minimizing the pains of others.

Over the years, what learned in South Carolina became a clarion call of sorts as I put away partisanship and instead started to focus on ways to narrow the divides that have Balkanized this blessed nation and humanity along with it. That is when I started to realize the deception of our political process and how the hardships and maltreatment of various communities are being weaponized and leveraged by the wielders of power not to address the root causes of inequalities but to pit people against one another in order to further the status quo.

The more I observed, the more I understood that the very induced tribalism that has been unleashed around the world to conquer nations and impoverish so many is being used against us right here in America. I studied the impact that colonialism had in Africa when I was in college and watched with dismay as the same playbook of divide and conquer was loosened upon my birthland Ethiopia but it took abject penury to realize that America is being bracketed by a soft form of apartheid that is designed to induce infighting among people who are being fleeced by a system that enriches a few and indentures the majority into a life of either financial anxieties or economic insolvency.

A land that has an abundance of resources and is the richest nation in the world is nonetheless birthing the disparity between the haves and the have nots that rivals that of the French Revolution. Consider the following facts:

  • 60% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck
  • The net savings of Americans is zero
  • For the first time in our country’s history, this emerging generation will be worse off financially than their parents
  • Tent cities have become a fixture in big cities and suburban areas
  • We very well could be witnessing the second coming of the Great Recession

Instead of addressing these urgent issues that can morph in short order from crisis to catastrophe, our politics has devolved into finger pointing, gaslighting and emotional manipulation in order to antagonize the citizenry. Sadly, too many are falling for it as bashing powerless people who are likewise being mobbed by inflation and anxieties instead of holding people in power accountable.

We are at an inflection point as a country as we are witnessing the breakdown of our economy and social norms in the process. If we have a chance of turning the ship of our state around and in the process ensuring a future of opportunity for our children, we must find it within ourselves to disavow animosity and bitterness and instead rally towards empathy and inclusion that doesn’t leave anyone out of the equation.

As I point out in the campaign video below which I recorded this morning, we must find it within our hearts to reject the toxic politics of tribalism and instead embrace our common humanity. There truly is no “us vs them”, there is only we—the totality of humanity. In this sense, I’m disavowing any form of otherism and assigning blame. From billionaires to the homeless and all in between, our fates are tied inextricably together, only through love and forbearance that transcends our differences can we bend the long arc of history towards justice.

I learned the hard way to value our common humanity and to resoundingly reject tribal politics. It is my fervent hope that it doesn’t take that level of distress and hopelessness on a national level for us to do the same. I am running for Congress to spread this message of goodwill towards our fellow men and women and in the process to spark a movement that restores representative government, advocate for equality of opportunity for all and to reorient America’s economy away from consolidated power and towards community empowerment.

“I have decided to stick to love…hate is too great a burden to bear.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.