Refugee Mayor of Helena made me proud to be a Montanan – World Refugee Day 2018

Wilmot Collins of Helena, Montana
Wilmot Collins, third from left, was elected mayor of Helena, Montana’s state capital, in 2017.

Helena, Montana – a tech consultant celebrates Mayor Wilmot Collins in honor of World Refugee Day 2018

There aren’t many visible refugees in my small town in Montana. So it was a special pleasure to learn that Wilmot Collins was coming to Bozeman from Helena, our capital city.

Wilmot Collins is a refugee from Liberia. He was coming to participate in a civic event put on by a local organization called I Am Interchange. I had heard just a little about Wilmot because of his association with the Refugee Center Online, with which I was also involved. But he lived in Helena, and I had never had the opportunity to meet him.

The event was a symposium was titled “Human Migration & Displacement,” one of a series organized to provoke community discussion around timely issues. Participants were people closely connected to the issue in some way. Wilmot had come to Helena in 1994 as a refugee fleeing civil war in Liberia, so he had a profound personal experience to share.

For me, public discussions like this one are not only enriching for my own understanding of our society, but essential as a basis for well-informed political decisions. I was impressed and grateful that Wilmot was willing to make the 3-hour round trip drive to add his voice to the symposium.

Arriving early to the Interchange venue, I introduced myself to Wilmot, and we found a little time to chat.

I also met his son Bliss, a well-spoken senior at the University of Montana. Later, during the give and take of the discussion, Wilmot freely told his experiences and expressed his opinions. The diversity of perspectives among the participants often led to disagreement, sometimes heated. Wilmot’s contribution was essential to providing a well-rounded and insightful exchange of views.

At that time, Wilmot had already begun his campaign to become mayor of Helena. He knocked tirelessly on doors, spoke at candidate forums, and attended many events. Six months later, he won the election, making national news for his accomplishment. I felt proud to be a Montanan.

Refugees shaking hands

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World Refugee Day 2018

This month, to celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20, US-born Americans across the United States honor newcomer Americans with a story from their state – a story of a refugee, asylee, or immigrant they admire. From soldiers to politicians, employers to students, social workers to business people – everyday Americans tell their stories to celebrate the goodness and courage of the newcomers who make the United States a better place.

Every day in the month of June, the Refugee Center Online will publish a new story from a different state. Check back for new stories each day: therefugeecenter.org/world-refugee-day.

Learn more about World Refugee Day. All across the country, there will be events celebrating World Refugee Day. Visit this map to find an event in your community.

About Steve Durbin
Steve Durbin is an independent technology consultant, working mostly with nonprofits in Bozeman, Montana. He is a member of the board of the Refugee Center Online.