As of this afternoon, when they cycled to the Antietam Battlefield, John and Tyler have completed 2,905 miles. John and Kipp have walked 383 miles. The total is now 3,288.
While in Pittsburgh, we had the privilege of witnessing the Naturalization Ceremony for 37 new citizens from 26 countries. The Ceremony was held at a Allderdice High, which was attended by the four youngest siblings of Albert Eckstein, John’s father. The Eckstein family had immigrated to Pittsburgh – first John’s grandfather, Herman, in 1923, followed in 1926 by John’s father and his six younger siblings, along with their mother, who had all waited until Herman could earn enough money to bring them to the United States. In addition to our Journey team, we were joined by two Eckstein siblings and four Eckstein cousins.
Citizenship Counts partnered with Allderdice High, providing our curriculum and assistance in working with the United States Immigration and Naturalization Services. After the very moving Ceremony, the teacher at Allderdice who had worked closely with our staff, expressed her appreciation for both the curriculum and Ceremony from which her students had learned so much.
The Allderdice High Chamber Singers sang very beautifully both “The Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful.” Daudi Hamadi Abdalla, an Allderdice High alumnus became a citizen and then told his story of hardship in Somalia and of the freedom and opportunities he found in the United States. An Allderdice freshman then told his story, which you will read below along with quotes from three students about American citizenship. It was another wonderful day on our Journey.
“What American Citizenship Means to Me”
By Siraji Hassan – Ninth Grader at Allderdice High in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
“Being an American means a lot to me because my people, the Somali-Bantu, have experienced many hardships. I once lived in a refugee camp called Kakuma, and now I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I didn’t go to school in Kakuma, and now I attend Allderdice High School. I didn’t have a job in Kakuma, and now I work at the Student Conservation Association. It was hard for my family to make a living and we struggled for food. Now that my dad and I have jobs, we can support my family. Many of my friends here have gotten their citizenship, and very soon my parents will be taking their test. When I become a citizen, I will be able to get my U.S. passport and have the opportunity to return to Kenya. However, this time it will be different. I left Kenya a refugee, and I will return as a Somali-American. And I am very proud of that. I will be able to see family members that I was sadly forced to leave behind.
“One night in Somalia I remember all the parents were sitting together. One man came to us, and we all had to leave the country. He told us that there was going to be a big war and that we had to leave as soon as possible. He said there were going to be bombs and shooting and we were going to be in danger. When the bombs started exploding, my mother took me on her back, grabbed my brother and my sister and left our house. My other brother was still there, but my mother returned to get him later. When she found him, our house had been destroyed. My mom grabbed all of us and started running to safety. We later found other Somali-Bantu families that were doing the same thing: walking and fleeing for their safety.
“Many people died walking. People starved, died of thirst or were eaten by animals. For three days we walked all through the jungles and the deserts. By the last night, many people had died. We took as many people as we could along the way. When we started running out of water, we were forced to drink urine for us to survive. That last day, we finally saw a car driving through the desert, which was there to help the Somalis get across the border. They couldn’t drive us, but they told us to keep walking and that we were close to Kakuma. On the third day we reached the refugee camp and my mother started crying. The next several days were spent in the hospital. We were given ration cards for food, and we were given a house that we would live in for the next eight years.
“Finally, we received notice for an interview to come to the United States. That is when my mother told me the story that I just told. That is why I am proud to be an American. Many of the Somali-Bantu know this story well and experienced many of the same things my family and I did. But I can proudly say that I am here and will soon call myself an American.”
Three quotes of Ninth Graders at Allderdice High School:
“My favorite part of America is our diversity and history. We have people from all over the world and there is not a ‘common appearance.’ We all fit together like a mosaic, because we are all different but piece together to become something great!”
“America was and is the place where a person can have any dream and work to make that dream a reality. I am proud to be an American because I have the chance to make music and paint and teach and learn and think for myself.”
“Being an American to me means freedom, opportunity and privilege. It is much more than ‘things’ that make an American; it is the feelings inside our minds and hearts. When people from other countries decide to put their time and effort into becoming an American, it puts a smile on my face. I am part of a nation that others want to join. I am proud to call America my home and welcome anyone who wants to make America their home too.”