On Nov. 7, Wilmot Collins, a refugee from Liberia, was elected mayor of Helena, Mont. He will become the first black mayor of the capital city, unseating 16-year-incumbent Jim Smith.
In 1990, Collins and his wife, Maddie, fled to Ghana to escape the brutal civil war in Liberia. They both weighed 90 pounds and were dying of starvation when they arrived. After regaining their health, they set their sights on Helena, where Maddie had lived as a high-school exchange student. While a pregnant Maddie was able to return to the U.S. and attend college on a student visa, Collins had to wait through the grueling refugee vetting process.
“We’ve worked hard, we contribute to our communities, and we are doing very well,” says Wilmot Collins of refugees who are rebuilding their lives in the U.S. Photo: Wilmot Collins/Facebook
“I was a refugee, so I registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,” Collins says. “The entire process took two years and seven months. When I saw my daughter for the first time, she was one month away from being two years old.”
His daughter is now in the Navy, his son attends the University of Montana and his wife is a registered nurse in the Army Reserve. Collins himself is a child protection specialist with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, a member of the Navy Reserve, and an adjunct professor at the University of Montana-Helena as well as a Ph.D. student in forensic psychology.
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