Ethiopian refugee Oballa Oballa becomes Austin, Minesotta’s first Black elected official

Oballa Oballa’s trek to Election Day was a long and improbable one.

He grew up in the Gambella region of Ethiopia, where he witnessed mass killings that took the life of his uncle and hundreds of others. He survived a two-week trek across treacherous terrain to reach a refugee camp in Kenya. He spent 10 years in camps where he often didn’t have enough to eat.

Now he has been elected to the City Council of his adopted hometown of Austin, Minnesota. He is the first refugee, first immigrant and first person of color to serve on the council. He said he never doubted he’d reach this destination.

“I’m so proud to call myself an American citizen, whereby I can serve and help the community,” he said. “The American dream is that anything I put my mind into, if I work hard for it, I can achieve it. That’s how I define my American dream.”