Ethio-American Tecle Gebremichael: 1st African Refugee to Run for Office in Idaho

Ethiopian-American Tecle Gebremichael, who is the first refugee from Africa to run for local office in Boise, Idaho, speaks to students at Boise State University, where he studies political science, about his campaign platform for city council. (Photo: IRC)

International Rescue Committee

Refugees in America: Meet Tecle: Boise’s first refugee from Africa to run for local office

Tecle Gebremichael was surprised to find a handwritten letter in his mailbox. No one really sends handwritten notes anymore, he thought. It read:

“Dear Mr. Gebremichael, Following last week’s mayoral and city council forums, I wanted to write and commend you for your candidacy, for your decision to offer yourself as a candidate and for the exceptionally articulate way you are addressing public issues in Boise. I think you have raised the caliber of public discussion in this city. As such, you have already emerged as a winner. I am still aspiring to be a good American citizen. You have already achieved it.”

Tecle was left speechless, holding back his tears. Last year in November, he became the first Ethiopian refugee to run for city council in Boise, Idaho. His experience as a refugee coming to the United States inspired him to run for local office and bring a fresh perspective as an immigrant and new American.

“When I first came to America, I promised myself that I will do everything I can to give back to the country and community that welcomed me,” he says. “I want to show that when refugees come here, we try to integrate and contribute however we can…”

“I feel people are losing the respect of others, but I believe we respect stories,” says Tecle. “When they hear the story of a young person who spent eight years in a refugee camp, who came to the U.S at age 21 with only seven years of schooling, trying to do these things, it’s just inspiring for many. That’s the American story.”

Tecle’s family were farmers in northern Ethiopia. He was seven years old when the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea broke out in the late nineties. One night, Tecle was jolted awake by his mother.

“We need to leave,” she told him as she left a small pile of clothes for him to pack.

As soon as he heard the deafening gunshots outside, he knew why. “You realize it’s between life and death,” he recalls, describing that night. “You don’t really think about anything but just running away.”

It was dark, Tecle recalls, but the sky lit up with artillery fire. As he ran, Tecle realized his parents were not with him.

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