In Montana, A Liberian Refugee Mounts A U.S. Senate Challenge


Wilmot Collins stands in the Helena City Commission chambers before a meeting. He moved to Montana in the early 1990s and is now running for the U.S. Senate. Kirk Siegler/NPR

In the early 1990s, Wilmot Collins and his wife, Maddie, escaped the Liberian Civil War. Broke and starving, they ended up in Helena, Mont.”Why do you think we fled?” Collins asked. “We fled because we wanted a second chance.”

Soon after moving to their first home, a neighbor knocked on their door and alerted Collins to hateful graffiti outside his house.

“On my wall was ‘KKK, Go back to Africa,’ ” Collins said.Politics

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This wasn’t the first racist threat he had received since his resettlement in the U.S. and Montana. But ironically this moment, nearly 25 years ago, was when he knew Montana would be his home. That’s because that same morning, a brigade of neighbors showed up to help them clean the graffiti.

“People always say, ‘Oh man, you know you’re in Montana, do you experience racism down there?’ ” Collins said. “I say, ‘Yeah, but how your community reacts to what happens will determine whether you belong or not.’ ”

Instead of moving, he and Maddie stayed and built themselves a new life. Collins started working as a janitor at a school, then became a substitute teacher, and eventually a social worker. On the side, he coached soccer and served on the United Way and other local boards. His wife is a nurse at the local VA hospital. They raised two children in Helena.

His son, who went on to study political science at the University of Montana, urged him to consider entering politics not long after President Trump took office in 201

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