I was introduced to Bright amidst the bustling day I spent at the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine. My first impression was that she lived up to the meaning of her name, because she was very kind and excited to talk with me. After hearing a little bit more about her story, her joy was an even more powerful thing to see.

“Alright, so my name is Bright. I’m twenty years old and I work for the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine and I am also a part time student at Central Maine community college. So I’m an asylum seeker, so I came here with my mother and my brother. It was after a series of different events in our lives that made us feel that we were unsafe and that we just couldn’t stay where we were. We were able…we got an opportunity to come here and we sought asylum.

Bright has had a long journey in getting to Lewiston, Maine. Even once she arrived in the United States, she moved around. The first place her and her family lived was Buffalo, NY where she stayed in a shelter. Just like Fatuma somebody told them Maine was a good place to live, so they stayed in somebody’s home for a month in Portland while they looked for a home in Lewiston. She also describes the process it took to get to the United States.

Oh so I was born in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I left there when I was seven years old. We left because my parents were being persecuted and they were, like, being sought after. People wanted them to probably to incarcerate them or whatever because they had an opposite political standing than the current president that’s there. And we fled to South Africa and we were there about twelve years but then the xenophobian attacks started happening in South Africa. Like it was really every year after 2018 and so we were victims of those attacks like maybe twice. Yeah, it was twice. The first time I remember one it was in our home and the second one was personally for me. I was in a school and I saw a man almost being beaten to death in front of me because he was a foreigner. I was like,’That could have been me. I am not from this country. That could have been me.’ And so I was like, ‘There’s no way I can do this anymore.’

So we were able to go back by route to go back to Congo because I didn’t have a passport. I needed to get a passport to be able to travel. So we went back home. I had to wait a long time for my passport because it takes such a long time. Our system is crazy. Once we were able to get the passport we were able to get visas to Nigeria. And then in Nigeria it was…I feel like when we went to these different countries, our hopes was that we could find better lives and that we would be safe and that we wouldn’t have anything to worry about. In South Africa there were the xenophobian attacks and in Nigeria there were all these like bomb threats and like these wars to like the different tribes and different religions and stuff like that. It was very intense; I remember when I was in Nigeria (we were there for about five months) and I don’t think I left the house more than five times. It was just like I was too scared I really was. So when we go the opportunity to come here, it was like no questions asked we’re gonna take it. We were really just…we exhausted all of the options we were able to come up with and I feel like this is my last chance. I am twenty years old, I shouldn’t be saying that so I am really hoping that this works out.”

Bright said it wasn’t all easy coming to Lewiston because everything is so new. Even though she said it was very hard at first she was incredibly glad to have her mom and brother with her because she really misses her friends back home.  But her family supported one another through the hard times to get to where they are now.

“So it was definitely hard the first couple of months but like as time started passing by I feel like things got a little bit easier. You know when we were able to get our work permits and start working things got a little bit easier we’re able to support ourselves now. And we’re like paying taxes. We’re just normal kind of living normal lives which I think is so great. I think that some of the things we have accomplished so far in the United States, in all the years I spent in Africa we wouldn’t have accomplished. Which is such a hard fact because, you know, Africa’s my home. And I come to this foreign and I am able to do all of these things that I couldn’t do in my own home, which is kind of really messed up.”

I asked Bright if she thought Lewiston was a welcoming place and she said it was. There was very few times where she felt discriminated against. She found that when she was open to conversation and questions the people around her reacted the same way. She told me she has been asked uncomfortable questions but she sees it as the community members trying to educate themselves about the diversity present in their city, and understands that people make mistakes when they are learning. Despite the welcome atmosphere she does think some things could be improved.

“I think maybe the integration between the New Mainer community and just the Maine community. On Lisbon street there are different ethnic stores and different American organizations and companies but I don’t feel like there is that proper interaction. It is hard to see like a white person going into like any of the ethnic stores. And if they do they are probably accompanied by a friend that’s black or Somali or something and if they aren’t accompanied than those are really rare cases. And you don’t really tend to see like people like me going into a place like Simone’s, it’s a cafe like right down the street and the first time I went in there was like two weeks ago. I had their coffee and I had their breakfast sandwich and I was like, ‘Oh my god. This is so good. Why have I not discovered this place all this time?’ I swear when I went in there I was like the only black person, and yeah I got a few stares but the people who were serving me were super nice and friendly with me. I was like I really like this place. So really that interaction and integration between the communities is really lacking in Lewiston at least.”

Bright is doing her part to better the community by working for the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine. She started as a volunteer in exchange for the assistance she was receiving and was hired almost a year later. She is the diversity and training coordinator, which means she is sort of a liaison to the community as a whole and to people like police officers, nurses, advocates, and other people that work within the community. They hold trainings, presentations, workshops, and different events that help educate community members to bridge the gap between the old Mainers and the new. One of the biggest messages she tries to get people to understand is that coming to a meeting and listening is good, but they have a deeper responsibility to take action with the new information they receive from her and her group.

I also wanted to know what dreams and goals Bright has for herself and her family.

I feel like that changes all the time depending on what happens to me and what my experiences are. When I was in South Africa I said I wanted to become a diplomat because I used to do model and like mock United Nations debates with a lot of schools and we would go and we’d act like we’re in parliament and we would have all these debates about different issues facing the world. And I loved that and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness I want to do that in the future,’ but I kind of got discouraged with all the corruption that goes on. People aren’t being helped in the world and I just don’t want to go into a career where I just get sucked into that. Get sucked into the corruption; get sucked into bad things because of influence. I don’t want that. But I want to help people. And how better to be in politics and be one of the good guys, but it is so much easier said than done. So I don’t know what I want to do. I want to help people, that’s the first thing I know. I want to help people be better. I want to educate people. I want to be better myself. So maybe a diplomat, maybe a senator. I don’t know. Just anything where I feel like I am useful and I am making a change, I am making a difference.

So do you think you want to stay in Maine long term?

For now, I mean I am in no hurry to move. I feel like this could slowly become my home, you never know. I mean if every person who came here ended up leaving, then there is not going to be any change in Maine. So if you think that others aren’t gonna do that, why are you going to be that other? Literally be the change that you want to see in the world, Do what you want others to do and hopefully others will follow you. So I don’t know. Let’s see where the road takes me. Maybe I will stay or maybe I will go and maybe I’ll come back. It depends, but I really do want to do something impactful and where else to do it but Maine.”

I was blessed to have met such an interesting person and have a great conversation. She is very passionate and I hope to see her succeed in making a difference in the Lewiston community and wherever else she may go. The full interview is available below and the full transcription here.