Nuni Omat: NBA Prospect, Former Baylor Athlete and Kenyan Refugee

My name is Nuni Omat and I was born in Nairobi, Kenya. I came to the US with my family, which was my mother and brother when I was only a couple months old.  My father was unable to come because of medical testing.  We arrived in South Dakota when we escaped to the US and stayed there for about a year.  Then, we moved to North Minneapolis shortly after. The reason why we fled was because of war in Kenya.  It was raging on brutally and my mother made the decision for us to leave the refugee camp.  She would venture out and get food for us often. It was dangerous for a woman to go out because of the violence but she was determined to take that risk and make sacrifices for her family.  My mother could have ended up getting killed and finally made up her mind about leaving so that her children could have a better opportunity.

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Upon arrival, I was not aware of my surroundings as much as my mother and brother because I was young.  For me, I felt lucky and grateful knowing that I was safe.  It was an honor and a blessing to be able to escape a war-torn place full of instability and suffering.  Growing up as a refugee in the US, I faced many challenges being different from everyone else.  The refugee community is always often judged by outsiders.  People around me were of different kinds, different races and were from backgrounds that was separated from me.  Obviously, being able to fit in with those people that were not as exposed to interacting with refugees or people with similar experiences with me was difficult.  I had to confront many negative stereotypes of refugees but also outright bigotry and oppression towards my community.  People would mock me and tell me to go back to where I came from among other xenophobic slurs.  In this environment of political divide and tension, my advice for refugee youth is that we, the people, have a lot of control over what people say and think about us.  We should focus on ourselves and our own community as much as possible.  Empowering people who have gone through the same experiences and struggles is most important, everything else is secondary.  Regardless of who you are, where you come from, we should not worry about judging the outsiders as they will forever be present.  If we can just get to the point where we are not affected as much by the aggressions and oppression that seek to tear us down, we will notice improvement socially, economically, spiritually among us.  We should stick to what we are familiar with, persevere with what we love most and try not to let people tear us down.  

Personally, behind my struggles and success, was my family.  They stood behind me in all the challenges that we faced.  More importantly, we went through these adversities together and I did not feel isolated and alone during hard times.  If you have a vision, it is easy to continue to strive and work towards your goal. Since coming to this country, one of my biggest accomplishments has been graduating college and getting a scholarship to a prestigious school, Baylor University.  Getting involved in sports, playing Division 1 basketball, played an important role in my life to motivate me to become a more resilient, disciplined person.  Playing at the highest level with so many competitive players is something that many children dream of and I was able to get this opportunity.  It has also made me more humble, honest and down-to-earth person.

This country is so special to me because you make nothing out of something. There are many people who do not get these opportunities to prove themselves in this country. Refugees and other similar communities would be able to showcase their strength and resilience.  My advice for other refugees who is trying to find their place in this society would be the struggle that we have is different from what other people might have in the US because they do not know our stories.  Don’t be overly bothered about what other people think or say and just work for yourself and work hard for the people that really matter.  Reflect on everything that you have been through and try to use that as motivation every single day.  Even though the odds may not be in our favor, given our disadvantaged situation, we can still make the best of it through working extremely hard and being fixed on working towards our goals and passions.         

Felicia Philibert