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Community Profile: Samuel Gebru, 17

This is the first in a series of community profiles, expressing the stories, opinions and perspectives of Cambridge residents, in their own words.

Samuel Gebru, 18, Youth Leader

I was born in Sudan, in Khartoum, in 1991. My parents met up in Sudan. They were both Ethiopians--actually not refugees. They were there living, trying to improve their lives. She came to Sudan when she was 17 or 18 years old. She was young, my father was there too. So that’s when they met. My father with a relative of ours had a shoe shop. They would fix shoes, clean them, and they would do other things with the shoes. My mother was just a housewife, she lived home.

When I was born they came to America for better opportunities. I was 3 when I left. I’ve been back 5 times. I travel back every 2,3,4, years. I was back last year, 2008, and plan to go back this year again, in 2009.

I’ve been living in Cambridge ever since, with my mom. She works now at Tufts Medical Center as a phlebotomist. Those are the people who draw blood and they process that in the lab.

In Massachusetts its estimated there are 10,000 Ethiopians... most would live in the Boston area. The highest concentration is in Cambridge, and I don't know if this is true, but I've heard that anywhere between 3 and 4,000 live in Cambridge, it could be true. Especially if you drive by North Cambridge, you see a lot of Ethiopians there.

I have roots in two cities, one is Hawzen and the other Wukro. 85% of Ethipians live in the rural countryside. Only 15% live in urban areas. Only 10 or 15 cities have population over 100,000. So Ukro and Hawzen are not that many, a couple thousand I would say, at the most.

Ethiopian culture is very community oriented. The social aspect in an Ethiopian’s life is very important. Society-wise, it’s a very social country... from your family to your friends, to just anybody. It’s always respecting people and greeting people with open arms. The tradition is very welcoming. When you go to Ethiopia they make you feel right at home.

In Ethiopia its not uncommon to see an Ethiopian family taking care of others. Most likely in Ethiopia they’d let you live with them. They’d find ways and avenues to support you and put you back on your feet.

Here in America you kind of lose sight of that because we’re so individual. Individualism is such a major part of what defines an American. I really admire the amount of resources that there are in this country. No one can deny that. What has always encouraged me is that here in the U.S., if you have a goal, if you have a vision, you can get it done, there are so many avenues to accomplish your dream.

I attend the Ethiopian Orthodox Church here and I actually teach. We have chief cantors, they do a lot of solo chants. The chants within the church are very ancient, its a mystery within themselves. We call these cantors Merigeta. They are highest you can get, being non clergy, because a Merigeta is practically a doctor of the church. I was joking with a friend the other day and he called me a "Merigeta-in-training," because of the things I know and the things I teach. Being an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian-- it kind of takes over your life sometimes, because it's who you are.

People say that to be an American is to speak one language, not to know anything about other people but yourself. There is lack of a cultural identity, because it’s such a melting pot.

You kind of just assimilate and kind of blend in as one. You make this American culture but there’s no unique aspect to it. You loose your culture. I’m all about culture. I always telling myself, I’m an Ethiopian because of the identity I hold with me, even in an American society.

I just really want to pursue higher education... people always ask me, "What do you want to major in?" and I say "I want to major in political science." But at heart, I don't know, and the reason why is because what I want to get into is politics, but I want to do everything, I want to get my hands into everything, because I feel so passionate about everything. I want to go out with a law degree but I want to take courses in Africa, politics, religion, and anthropology perhaps.

I eventually do want to go back to Ethiopia and yes, for somebody my age, I know an good deal about Ethiopian culture and I could probably teach classes on it, but at the same time there's way more to know and If I want to go back and take an active role in Ethiopia's affairs then I need to understand the cultural context of my people a little more in depth.

I want to go into service in Ethiopia and I've been cited on many occasions as saying that I want to end up as Prime Minister but that's at minimum in 20-25 years from now ... that's certainly something I 'd like to do because
I know of a lot of problems in Ethiopia.

To be a leader of a developing nation is by far harder work than any other occupation, really, because you have to deal with developing your country and moving your country ahead at the same time... so it's challenging. It takes your life, but it's something I find interesting and something I'd like to do.

I tell people my legs are in America but my hands are in Ethiopia. What that means is that I’m in America physically but I’m also at 2 places at once. My culture is both in America and Ethiopia.

Read Samuel Gebru's blog on Ethiopian culture, politics, youth and current affairs

Comments

Submitted by Aster Schurink ... on

Being an Ethiopian myself I have to admire the intrest of Samuel in his cultural heritage.
It is nice to see so many young Ethiopians caring for their traditions.
It is because Ethiopia does have beautiful traditions garded by the older generations and still original due to the remote geografical location of Ethiopia.
I myself live abroad for 10 years now and am proud to teach the same traditions and cultural values to my children.

Samuel you are an inspiration for your generation and those following.

Submitted by Dr. Renata Elad on

Well,Well,Well...I'm glad to see some Ethiopians who admire the "work" of Samuel. Wake up fools! Samuel is an expert and trained deceiver in public affairs just like his Ethiopian EPRDF mentors and financers.

Samuel, assumes and wants us to believe he has an active role in the Ethiopian community,he doesn't and will not. Most of us in the community and some around his high school know that he is a spokes person of the Ethiopian Tyrant and dictator Meles Zenawi. So if he tells you that he praises the Lord on Sundays and "applauds" the mass killings and imprisonments of the Ethiopian Government the next day, I say he's got some serious issues.

Submitted by Jodi Hilton on

Dr. Elad,
With all due respect, could you explain your position? Your allegations against Samuel Gebru are strong and inflammatory.

How do you stand personally on the issue of Zenawi and why do you believe that "Samuel is an expert deceiver and spokesperson of Zenawi"?

Could you please give a fuller explanation of your complaint and why you believe Zenawi to be a tyrant and dictator for those of us in Cambridge you know less about the issues at stake? Thank you.

Submitted by Anonymous on

You obviously don't know Samuel Gebru if you're saying such things. This kid is widely respected by the Cambridge community, let alone his native Ethiopian community, he is known among students as a peer leader, among the city's leadership as a youth advocate. He's an Executive Member of a very important city board that recommends policy to the City Government regarding children, youth and families. He's also a senior student ambassador at the high school and is also a very strong resource for the Ethiopian community in the area. This captures Samuel in an amazing light, many things are said here that I never knew too. His church aspect is perhaps the most interesting. Dr. Elad, you are accusing Samuel of things while you haven't presented any evidence.

Submitted by Jodi Hilton on

My sentiments exactly. If you knew Samuel you couldn't help but be impressed by his work. In his 17 short years, he's accomplished so much, including his support of the Fistula Foundation in Addis. I don't know any other high school aged boys interested in supporting women's issues like that.

April 7:BOSTON - Ethiopian Youth leader Samuel Gebru, 17, will be awarded by the Nigerian American Community Organization (NACO) on Saturday, April 18 in Boston at their First Annual Cultural Banquet. Samuel Gebru is hailed by NACO as a model African, someone for other youth to follow and cooperate with in the interests of Ethiopia and the African continent.

Samuel Gebru, a graduating senior at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is expected to attend and provide remarks detailing his vision for Africa's youth. He is the only youth in a line up of 5 distinguished people who are being awarded by NACO at their first annual cultural banquet.

The banquet will feature traditional African foods, music, cultural fashion and will also serve as the annual fund raising event for the organization. Samuel is best known as Founder of the Ethiopian American Youth Initiative (www.ethusa.org), a slowly emerging US-based organization for Ethiopians and Americans. He is widely respected among his peers and frequently travels to his homeland of Ethiopia where he is actively engaged in the political, social and cultural affairs.