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Casey Streich, a lawyer, was at the Y for his usual workout with his wife, Elizabeth. He had been watching the kid’s poor attempts to dribble and run. Streich showed him a few moves. Roba began to tell Streich the story of his life.
“It was so unbelievable that I investigated it for a few days,” Streich said, “and it was true.” A month later, Roba moved in with Casey and Elizabeth, where he lived for more than a year.
Streich helped him with his homework and English skills. “We’d be doing the dishes and talking, new words every day.” Streich was humbled by how many opportunities Roba seized, taking advantage of tutorials at the library at night and on weekends, practicing English on long bike rides with Streich, or on the basketball court (improving quite nicely), and endearing himself to anyone willing to help.
“His middle name should be network,” said Streich, who still sees Roba weekly. “When I’m walking down the street with Gada, you can’t believe how many people know him.”
When living quarters got too tight, Roba moved in with Ann Longfellow and David Bryan for more than three years. He calls the Uptown couple “another true family who gave me a second chance.”
He graduated from high school at 21, then earned a double major in global studies and political science at the U. Along the way, he built a multipage, rock star resume, including serving as president of the Oromo Student Union and as a bilingual educator in the Minneapolis public schools, traveling to the South to study civil rights and to Kenya to document postelection violence, and attending an international conference in Morocco.
Eventually, though, the young man’s wrenching past caught up with him. He struggled, he said, with “the theory of this beautiful world we can have,” and the world he had seen in practice.
For two years, Roba was a client at the Minneapolis-based Center for Victims of Torture, finding support from staff and people from Rwanda, Cambodia and other corners of the world who understood. It was another turning point.
In 2012, Roba was named a Humphrey School of Public Affairs fellow and recipient of a Virginia McKnight Award in Human Services for his work in the Oromo community. That community will soon expand globally, and graciously.
“There is no peace without justice,” Roba said. “I was able to forgive, but I will never forget what happened to me, my family and my people.
Historical injustices need to be addressed, but violence is not the answer.”