From a lack of secure jobs that often pay to poor or crowded housing and isolation from services that could help them, as well as the emotional isolation caused by stress, the immigrant community in the United States bears it all.
While the United States is considered to be the land of opportunity, it is not always the same for many immigrants who seek a better life and education from their native countries.
But a Kenyan born American, Boni Njenga, himself an immigrant who went to the United States by default 17 years ago is seeking to be the remedy to the problems facing not only the huge immigrant community in Minnesota, but also native Americans in the county.
Njenga is vying for a position in the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, District 5 (Bloomington, Richfield, and Eden Prairie) in the elections set for November 3.
“For seventeen years that I have been in this country, I have seen how the young people and especially the immigrants are struggling to make ends meet,” observes Njenga.
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“We are facing challenges like the opioid crisis, homelessness, lack of public safety, racial disparities, and tax levy increases with no accountability and transparency on spending,” he adds.
“I have been touched by the plight of our people and I want to change this and that is why I am seeking an elective post,” says Njenga who if elected will be the first Kenyan born to sit in a county board of commissioners.
Njenga is challenging first-term incumbent Debbie Goettel, whom he acknowledges as a formidable opponent.
“Debbie has been there and has played a good role. Now it’s time for another person to bring fresh ideas on how we should run affairs in the county.”
“I want to advocate for the rights of all residents. Today’s challenges require more than a single approach. They require fresh ideas, action, and strong advocacy.”
Hennepin is Minnesota’s largest county with an annual budget of $2.5 billion (Sh 250 billion) that is overseen by a seven-member board of commissioners.
Njenga, born in Nakuru Town, found himself in the United States by default. His mother sent him to the US in 2003 to keep him away from bad peer influence after his high school education.
The single mother of six was concerned about the future of her troublesome son who had attended four secondary schools.
Njenga attended D.N Handa Secondary School in Naivasha for his Form One, moved to Coulson Secondary School in Gilgil the following year, and then transferred to Kalou Secondary School in Ol Kalou for Form Two and Form Three.
He returned to D. N Handa where he sat his O’level exams.
He passed his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams but his mother worried about the effects peer pressure would have on him decided to ship him to the US.
“My mother was concerned about my discipline. I was giving her a difficult time due to bad influence from my peers,” he says.
“To save me from the possibility of engaging in drug abuse and crime, she decided to send me to the United States of America to live with my brothers. I arrived in the US with a near-empty suitcase and $50 (Sh 5000) as pocket money.”
“It was never part of my intention to come to America, though my brothers were here.”
“I came here as a young confused man, unsure of what the future held for me, but through focus, hard work, and mentorship by my lecturers, I can look back and thank my mother for sending me here. I know she is proud of me.
“My mother instilled in me discipline and the value of service to the people. Minnesota gave me an elite education and job experience and I have come to call it home.
Today, 17 years later Njenga is an American citizen with a Master’s degree in Public Administration and is seeking to become the first Kenyan-American to sit as a commissioner in one of the county boards in the US.
After moving to the US in 2003, Njenga joined Minnesota State University-Mankato from where he obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and later a Master’s degree in Public Administration.
He has held supervisory and project management roles with the State before joining the private sector and has lived and worked in Hennepin County for the last nine years.
Being a policy analyst, he says his campaigns are focused on five key areas - creating community wealth, closing achievement gaps, children protective services, safe and affordable housing, and improving the quality of life for all residents.
He says this background will enable him to offer ideas and innovative approaches for creating sustainable jobs and economic security.
“We can only solve these issues with fresh and bold 21st-century governance and by applying evidence-based policymaking, which will enable us to curb wasteful spending in Hennepin County, keeping more money in your pocket," he says.
Njenga criticises the county’s dismal record when it comes to contracting minority entrepreneurs and says one of his desires is to create community wealth, informed by the challenges marginalised communities face.
“Hennepin County, with its millions of dollars, spends less than one per cent in contracting the minority groups,” he says.
However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Njenga has been forced to run his campaigns on social media platforms.
“I reach out to voters through my Facebook page (Boni Njenga), and Twitter account(@Boninjenga). It is not easy but the circumstances have forced us to keep social distancing.”
“It will be quite an honour if residents of District 5 give me a chance to serve them and give back to the community that gave me a home and accepted me years ago.
“I have always had a passion for public service and politics. I value the quote by former US President J.F. Kennedy - ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your county’.”
Njenga joins the long list of Africans seeking elective posts in Minnesota since the election of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar to the Minnesota Legislature in 2016, and the US House of Representatives two years later.
She is the first black person born in Africa to be elected to the US Congress and is the highest-ranking elected African immigrant politician in the State.