America is known as the land of opportunity — the American dream. If this is anything to go by, it is one that has worked in favor of Liberian-born Americans, Naquetta Ricks and Nathan Biah, who are not just living the American dream but poised to shape the dream, after winning their public office seats in Colorado and Rhode Island, respectively.
Ricks and Biah, as Liberians who fled the civil war in their homeland, had to begin life all over in new land. A few years later, Biah has been elected to represent Rhode Island’s District 3 at the US Congress, while Ricks was elected to the Colorado State House of Representatives, representing District 40 in the US elections this week.
Ricks fled the Liberia Civil War and resettled in Aurora, Colorado and graduated from Aurora Central, and earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Business Administration from Metro and Colorado University respectively.
As a single mother of a 24 years old child, Ricks operated a successful small mortgage brokerage business. In her bio, she said, since fleeing the civil war and resettling in Aurora, she has had the opportunity to live what now seems like an impossible American Dream.
“As a young girl, I fled a Civil War in my native country, Liberia, and resettled in Aurora. Since then, I have had the opportunity to live what now seems like an impossible American Dream.
“I’ve dedicated my life to working to improve my community, by helping build economic knowledge capacity and attainability for immigrant and low income communities. I serve on various community boards, and find joy in helping people reach their goal of home ownership through affordable housing as a mortgage broker,” said the Democrat.
According to Ms. Ricks, her decision to contest the election seat is to ensure that every Coloradan, whether immigrant or a fifth-generation Coloradan, is given equal opportunity to succeed.
“This means fighting at the State House for policies that expand the quality of life for our residents. We must expand apprenticeships, vocational training and continued access to education. One of my primary focuses must be affordable and attainable housing,” Ricks said. “Transparency and accountability in legislation and politics are critical to restoring faith in our government, and those elected to serve the people.”
As an accountant by profession, Ricks said while in the Colorado State House of Representatives, she is going to lobby with peers to cut inefficiency and abuses will be at the forefront of my work.
“I will combine my education and professional experience to help ensure Colorado continues to be a state that operates by and for the people,” she said.
Ricks, a mortgage broker, beat John Ronquillo, a political newbie and an assistant professor at the University of Colorado in Denver. The Colorado Secretary of State’s office rated the turnout for the June 30 primary the highest in a non-presidential primary election.
As for Biah, who is a high school principal at Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School, was elected representative for Rhode Island District 3 after defeating two-term incumbent Rep. Moira Walsh in the statewide primary early in September.
Biah, who immigrated to the US at the age of 20 from Liberia during the country’s civil war, argued that his life experience can help him serve the people of Providence’s District 3.
“I personally went through some hard, difficult times coming up,” he said. “Coming from a terrible country, going through a civil war where I didn’t even know if I was going to survive the next day. … So when I see kids struggling, I reflect on myself.”
As a representative, Biah said his force will be on hearing the thoughts, and concerns of his constituents and working with them to solve problems.
“Oftentimes, we forget we are serving, as politicians, as educators,” he said. “I’m an educator. I’m a servant. I serve my community. I serve my students. I serve my students’ families, parents. My main concern is the people of District 3,” he said.
Before immigrating to the US, Biah spent his childhood in Monrovia, Liberia. According to the Providence Journal, Biah’s mother worked hard to send him to one of the most prestigious preparatory schools in the country.
However, upon Biah’s graduation from High School, Liberia descended into another civil war, causinghim to lose his transcript in the process. At the end, he was forced to take the GED.
“We were in our homes for months. We didn’t have food,” he said. “You’re under the bed, because right next to you, you see government forces and rebel forces fighting, bullets flying. … You’re asking, ‘Will I even be able to survive?’”
While in Liberia, Biah was living near the Free Port of Monrovia, which government soldiers and rebel militants were fighting over for control.
At the age of 18, he said he walked nearly 90 miles to Bong Mines, during the height of the country’s civil war.
In the U.S., he enrolled at the Community College of Rhode Island and passed the test before moving on to college. He studied criminal justice at Rhode Island College and began working as a substitute teacher so that he could earn money to send back to his mother in Liberia.
He later became a math teacher, teaching at middle and high schools all over Providence, and eventually earned his master’s degree in education administration from the University of Rhode Island. Biah has a family of his own — his wife, Thumbelina, and his three kids, ages 14, 16 and 19. And his mother now lives in Providence, too.
“From one point to the next point, you’re walking over bodies,” he said. “The motivating factor was, I still have life. God still gives me life, so I keep going.”