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Resiliency: Finding Faith through Christ - by DaSheek Akwenye, MS

Growing up in Namibia, Southern Africa, my parents didn't graduate from high school, nor did they attend college. Growing up during the apartheid (racial segregation) era, I got to experience the trauma that comes with systematic separation of grouping people into different ethnic groups in daily life. This was particularly hard because at the time, blacks were considered second class citizens and were separated from white people by law and other action like transportation, public accommodations, recreational facilities and most importantly schools weren't accessible to black communities. This was really heart breaking to see and live through. Although it was hard, I grew up in a Christian home and I recall wise counsel from my mom, and she would say "It's not fair or right that we (blacks) should be treated this way; but let’s hope and have faith that one day we will be liberated from this struggle". I am grateful for that counsel because never did my mom tell me to hate someone or white people for how they treated us during those racial segregation times’, but she always taught us to treat people with respect, kindness, love, and compassion. That's a lesson that I've always tried to carry with me and to always be accepting of others.

After our country gained its independence in 1990, we branched off from South West Africa and became our own country known as Namibia. Independence opened opportunities to attend schools that were predominantly only for White students and English became the mandatory 1st language in schools. Our people were able to roam free and afford opportunities that were never available to them, due to the color of their skin. Being a first-generation student, I never imagined myself attending college because it was never talked about in our household. I always aspired to be a professional soccer player because that’s all I played in the dirt streets and what I saw on television when I did have the opportunity to dream big. I am grateful for the opportunity that I received to come to America on a Track and Field scholarship because it opened a whole new world of opportunity for me.

As a first-gen international student, I have had to overcome a variety of personal challenges that have helped me to aspire to grow personally as well as professionally. I recall before getting on the plane my mom telling me to "never forget where I came from". I came to this country with just a suite case. I struggled to adapt to the new American cultural barriers, the food, the language, school, weather, financially, and track & field workouts. Being a minority in Utah, I couldn't see a lot of people that looked like me around. Even through those darkest of days, and even though things weren't going the way I wanted them, I had to stay disciplined and work hard to create and bring meaning to the opportunities afforded to me.

I learned how to be resilient and how to persevere. Through my Christian faith, I've always had to rely on hope and faith that life or things will work out regardless of what storms life brings and I'm grateful for that. When I made the decision to convert from my Lutheran Christian upbringing and to join the LDS church, I had friends and family that didn't want me to join the LDS church. There was a lot of backlash that came with it because some friends would say the LDS church racist due to the priesthood ban and majority white members and they didn’t want me to be a part of that. But what this gospel has done for me, is make me whole again! It has given me meaning to life, it's brought me closer to Christ through His example and it's taught me how to love, be accepting of others, and serve others unconditionally. It's allowed me to always have a positive outlook on life, it's allowed me to see and be accepting of people and to see them for who they are regardless of where they come from.

America is a land of opportunities. As any immigrant will tell you, anyone that comes here seeks the American Dream. I've always sought to not let any opportunity go to waste. This is where education played a huge role in my life. My track & field scholarship paid for my college education. I was able to obtain a B.S degree in Journalism w/ minor in Public Relations and obtained my M.S degree in Exercise Physiology w/ minor in corporate Wellness. Education has allowed me to realize that there’s more to life than just being an athlete. It gave me a sense of hope, courage, determination, and an understanding of what it means to succeed through perseverance and hard work. Becoming a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, has strengthened my relationship with my savior. It has taught me the value of life and to know that we are all God’s children and it's important to show Christlike love to all regardless of who they are. Two of the great commandments that Jesus taught is to Love God and to Love your neighbor. Despite this countries short comings when it comes to racial inequalities, there's always room to grow and bridge the gap. At the same time, we need to always lead with kindness, love, and compassion in these modern times to create an America or better yet a world that is more equitable and just for everyone.

Becoming a U.S citizenship, was one of the most humbling experiences. It was filled with so many emotions. Although there’s trails and challenges within this country, it is still rich in freedoms, security, liberty and most importantly the diverse community of people that come from all over the world. This country is rich in history, and as a first-generation American, its afforded me a future, future filled with hope, love, and opportunity.

I want to live in an America that creates opportunities for others just like it has for me. Just as much as this country has failed our people at times, it also has created a space for change. I love this country; at times it hasn’t loved me back. When I think of Patriotism, I can’t always help but reflect on our founding fathers and ancestors whom this country was built by. Due to slave trade from Africa to the America’s. Those stories help me not forget those that paved the way for the freedoms that I have today living in America and better yet; continue to live a legacy where I can always be of influence for the better with every interaction and action with those that I meet. At times we still having the same conversations of our ancestors who were segregated and seeking freedom & racial equality! Yet, some progress has been made but it’s my hope that as a true America we seek to do more to better the future of my kids and the next generation of Youth.

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