HOLMBERG: Henrico family who fled Africa living Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream

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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) - As the nation celebrated and considered the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on Washington and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech about his dream for racial and economic equality, a Henrico couple gave thanks that the dream has worked beautifully for them.

“We’re living the American Dream,” Faiza Sambo-Koadi said.

“If you have ambition, you can achieve,” her husband, Abiodun Solanke , said of his adoptive country.

Her home was in Sudan, where civil war and ethnic cleansing raged for years between the Muslim north and the oil-rich, more Christian south. Five million people were displaced. Two and half million killed.

“Where we came from, we were always like second-class people,” Sambo-Koadi said.

He came from Nigeria, where civil war had faded, but Christians faced serious discrimination. “Because in my country,” he said, “if you’re not a Muslim, you will not be able to achieve your individual goals.”

They met in Cairo.

They knew they had to find freedom in a safe country that welcomed Christians.

They were sponsored by St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in western Henrico and came to Richmond, where they were given a jump start for six months – rent, groceries and a car.

They were able to get jobs quickly, he as a librarian at Virginia Union. She’s been doing day care at a western Henrico YMCA all these years and has signed up to return to college.

They were able to buy a split-level West End house within three years of their immigration.

This past weekend, they dropped their son, Timothy,  off at Radford University. Their second son, Jonathan, just started high school and hopes to become a professional soccer player. Their 11-year-old daughter, Venus, isn’t sure what she wants to do yet.

All this probably never would’ve happened in their homeland, especially because of their Christian faith.

Equality is real here, they said.

“We were able to own a house,” Faiza Sambo-Koadi said. “The opportunity to have a higher education that will not be readily available in my home country.

“To live freely,” she added. “Especially the freedom of religion.”

Perhaps those of us who were born here take much of this for granted.

But Solanke said even here, freedom requires constant vigilance – by everyone.