International student Grace Mulumba has overcome many obstacles in his journey to get an education. He and other international students took action when faced with a ruling from the Trump administration that might have prevented them from achieving their goals.
Contact: Malcolm Hornsby;
For immediate release — Aug. 17, 2020
(DALLAS) — Grace Mulumba is certainly no stranger to facing adversity. Months before his birth, he and his family were forced to flee their native Democratic Republic of Congo for Belgium, escaping instability brought by civil war, all while leaving behind their home, car, necessities and life as they knew it. The 18-year-old Dallas College student didn’t know it at the time, but this would serve as the first of many trials he would face.
Over 14 years, his family ultimately rebuilt their lives, and Mulumba followed their model, tackling one obstacle after the other. He learned English, acclimated to Belgium customs, even endured a rare birth impairment which prevented the soles of his feet from forming properly and forcing him to walk with a limp.
“I was in constant pain while walking,” Mulumba said. “Sometimes people would even question the way I carried myself.”
Still he persevered. It was around junior high when Mulumba was presented with perhaps two of the most enticing and life-affirming opportunities: surgery to correct his feet and a chance to continue his education in the United States with dreams of becoming a physician.
“In Belgium, you don’t see as many opportunities for people who want to pursue careers,” said Mulumba. “It’s really rare to see people become successful.”
Both the surgery and relocation provided Mulumba with a chance to start fresh. They also brought along a new set of challenges.
“When I arrived in the U.S., I was in a wheelchair. It affected me because I wasn’t mobile,” said Mulumba.
Faced with both new territory and new challenges, Mulumba carried on, learning to adapt to his new land. He eventually learned to walk again — even tested his newfound mobility by joining the soccer team at Trinity Christian School in Cedar Hill, where he also excelled academically. He later dropped out during his junior year and earned his GED diploma — a feat he conquered when he was only 16.
“I was really impressed with myself, but I also started questioning a few things because this meant I needed to be registered somewhere right away,” Mulumba said. “As an F-1 (foreign visa) student, I had to constantly be taking educational courses.”
Dallas College soon entered the picture. First attending the Mountain View Campus and now Richland, his accomplishments are almost too numerous to list: vice president of scholarship for Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society, member of the Male Achievement Program, an Erin Tierney Kramp scholar and founding member of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space or SEDS program, all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
Facing an Obstacle Head-On
Life was finally starting to take shape. Then came July 6. The Trump administration abruptly announced a new policy making it more difficult for international students to remain in the country. International students who were planning to take classes entirely online this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic would be forced to do so in their home countries.
“I was more upset than scared,” said Mulumba. “Going back was no option at all. I just did not understand because sending people back would just make it more dangerous for them.”
Soon anger turned to action. And Mulumba’s concern was not only for himself or even his family, some of whom he hasn’t seen in nearly a year. In these most desperate of times, his focus was on others.
“I know how many international students I represent,” Mulumba said. “We all came here for a reason, to pursue an education, and to just shatter that in one moment was unbelievable. We have already gone through so much already.”
United by fear and frustration, Mulumba and other members of Richland’s international community got to work. They signed petitions, organized meetings, even wrote letters explaining their situation and pleading for the administration to reconsider the ruling.
Imagine, Mulumba says, the tremendous emotional impact of being in a place where you can finally pursue your dreams, and then it’s all over. It was a harsh reality for some 2,600 international students enrolled at Dallas College.
“We were beyond disheartened by this one-size-fits-all approach,” said Dallas College Chancellor Joe May. “We work each day to ensure our college community is one that stands for the inclusion and equality of all, and this move would have directly gone against that stance.”
The college, with plans to deliver Fall semester courses primarily online, quickly began exploring ways to keep its international community intact. Then news came of the administration’s reversal — allowing international students with M-1 and F-1 visas to continue their studies in the U.S. uninterrupted.
Motivated by his mantra, “solution seekers instead of problem observers,” Mulumba not only welcomed the news, but also the lesson the ordeal brought with it.
“Instead of discouraging me, this pandemic has encouraged me even more to pursue medicine. For me, medicine is humanity’s greatest risk, but also its greatest success.”
Mulumba plans to graduate in May 2021 and pursue a biomedical engineering degree at University of Texas at Dallas. He hopes his life’s journey will serve as motivation for others going through trials of their own.
“Within yourself, you already have what it takes to overcome any situation. It will not be easy, there will be worries, but that’s what life is about. Give it all you have.”
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