Meron Semedar for Oakland City Council, District 3
Meron Semedar brings 15 years of community organizing, social justice, human rights and refugee plight advocacy influencing local and international policy makers. Here is his story.
Born to freedom fighter parents in the middle of the active war for Eritrean independence, I grew up among soldiers who were ready to give their lives for the freedom of their people and country. As a child I had to run and hide from Russian-backed Ethiopian fighter jets and their bombs to save my life. We gained independence from Ethiopia by a hard-fought war in 1991. Luckily both my parents had survived and I was able to meet my father for the first time since my birth. Our happy family moved toKeren, the second largest city in Eritrea.
My two brothers and I started school in Keren. We were diligent students as we knew from early on the important role that education would play in our future. Unfortunately, war broke out again between Eritrea and Ethiopia between 1998 and 2000. This had a direct impact in my family as I lost my father to a senseless border war that continues to drag the two countries backward. Not long after that, my hopes and dreams of becoming somebody were cut short as the only university in the country was closed, and remains closed to this day.
The regime in Eritrea became an absolute dictatorship, with records of gross human rights violations. I was forced to flee the country that my father had fought and died for. Leading a group of five men while escaping our home country overnight, we made it to safety after twenty hours of harrowing hardship and danger - and we became refugees in Sudan. I was the first one in my immediate and non- immediate family to become a refugee. This decision was hard to make but necessary for my survival and that of my family.
After seven months in Sudan, with the help of smugglers I was able to reach to South Africa. In South Africa, as a refugee, I worked as a waiter and finished my Engineering degree. It was here in South Africa I first witnessed the effect of colonialism and the impact of systemic racial injustice. As an African, I was also not welcome by black South Africans for the fear of taking their jobs. I witnessed South Africans killing other African people in the most horrific xenophobic attacks. In this environment I became an overnight activist to make the voice of follow refugees heard and gain the necessary respect.
My work as an activist, giving voice to the plight of refugees in South Africa and around the world, and upholding human rights and democracy in Eritrea, brought me to the United States in October 2012 to speak at the One Young World international summit along with former President Bill Clinton, the 7th UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and many other world leaders and international activists.
Here in America, I saw firsthand a life worth pursuing and a place where I might one day be able to really contribute in a significant way. Soon I had to battle with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regarding my status. After a yearlong battle, I was finally granted asylum at the end of 2013 and made Oakland my home.
To this date Oakland remains my home and I will never trade it for any other city. When I first arrived in Oakland, the city was welcoming, and life was less difficult, even for someone like me who came with nothing but my soul. Having lived for seven years in District 3, today the city and especially District 3 has become difficult to recognize and life in Oakland has become so very expensive. Also, we are facing great trauma during this COVID-19 pandemic as well as very few leaders that truly want to address the pressing issues that we have here in District 3 and around the country.
I am running for office in City Council District 3 to have our voices better heard regarding affordable housing and good policing and helping find housing for our homeless population. I promise to bring new and fresh ideas to improve the quality of life in District 3 and in our city. I will listen to you, your concerns and your dreams.
Locally I have become a member of many organizations and platforms such as the East Bay Refugee and Immigrant Forum (EBRIF), Student Outreach for Refugees, Asylees and Immigrants (SORAI) at the University of San Francisco and continue to address and organize events to educate and empower disenfranchised communities. Such events have often been held in collaboration with local and international organizations and universities. I have been very involved in advocacy both at a local level and on the international platform to influence policy makers on refugee plights and the upholding of human rights, such as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), African Studies Association, One Young World and the United Nations Youth Assembly.
After 15 years of life as a refugee, stateless person and asylee, in November 2019 I became a proud US citizen which I see as a second chance in my life. Since my arrival in this great nation in October 2012, I continue to give back by educating and empowering communities through hosting events on issues such as immigration, resettlement, mental health, volunteering to feed our homeless community and supporting local organizations. I strive to be a role model for youth by trying to motivate and uplift them. I have travelled to several places around the world to address issues of racial injustice, human rights, refugee plights, youth empowerment, poverty alleviation and the role of education.
My work in collaboration with local and international organizations has shaped the approach to many policies. I have led many organizations, created clubs at institutions and stood at the forefront of numerous protests to better the lives of many. I am inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived; it is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
Running for public office is my way of giving back to the community and country that welcomed me with open arms. As a refugee, immigrant and now a proud US citizen, I bring unique abilities, lifelong rich experiences and problem-solving skills to uplift our community in District 3 and in the greater Oakland area.
Your support and contribution will enable us to reach out to all members of the District 3 constituency. I pledge to listen to your input, what is important to you, and champion our collective agenda to improve the quality of life in District 3 and Oakland. My thanks for your support in advance.