Liyu Woldemichael

“I can't be a pessimist because I'm alive.”  James Baldwin

Not many people can say that they won a lottery that brought them three thousand miles away, across large bodies of water, and past multiple borders. To a place with a new language. To a place where none of my ancestors had ever stepped foot. With a ticket that told me that this place was my home where I belonged--a place that belonged to me.

Hello! My name is Liyu Woldemichael. My name was passed to me by my grandmother who died before my first words were ever spoken. Liyu in Amharic means special. My grandmother hoped I would live a special life That I would be able to laugh, cry, and scream. That I would live surrounded by a cacophony of sound and of color. To me, my name is attached to a history of mothers that passed strength and resilience to their daughters. The women who surrounded my mother when she became the first girl among them to attend college, who looked at her as a new beginning for their daughters. It is impossible to introduce myself without talking about the Black women who have built homes for me. The women who I have met, have loved and been loved by; to the women who I have never met, but that I feel that I have known.

My mother had won the Diversity Visa Program, but, for families living amidst political turmoil, we call it the green card lottery. I left Ethiopia when I was two years old, with my parents, my three older siblings, and my aunt.  For us, America had existed in a different world, with wealth and power and with hope and opportunity. Since then, my parents fought for their vision of the American Dream, a dream that they had seen as they boarded our flight from Addis Ababa. That they had felt as they left the year-round summer of Ethiopia to the cold New York air. That they has seen when surrounded by skyscrapers that seemed to reach the clouds. America was noticeably colder and more unfamiliar, yet it held a promise for better, for more.

Growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, I have seen a city torn between the past and the future. I have seen this country that promised a dream to my family continuously break from its word. Still, I am grounded in optimism. Hope that this world can do better and that we collectively can make it better. I have that hope, and I will follow it.

photo of Liyu Woldemichael