Just in time for Black History Month, a special story about Amerifirst Team Member Simba Mwayi and his 8,318 mile journey to achieve U.S. Citizenship.
Amerifirst celebrates the development and positive experiences of the Black/African American community to advocate for an equitable future.
The Road to Citizenship
by Jonathan Canady,
Director of Professional and Educational Development
Anyone who interacts with Simba Mwayi will say that he is a happy guy who constantly has a smile on his face. Simba has many reasons to smile, including becoming a U.S. citizen as of January 20th, 2022. What led him to this moment? Here’s his story.
Where it began
Bulawayo, the second-largest city in Zimbabwe, is where Simba was born. Located in Southeast Africa, it is home to the dramatic Matobo Hills granite rock formations and cave art that dates back 100,000 years.
Bulawayo is a bustling city, much like many of the cities one would expect to find in the U.S. Simba’s parents were accountants by trade, but in his mother's earlier years, she had traveled to the U.S. with her sister to attend university. This too had become a dream for Simba as he reached the end of his schooling. Following their footsteps, Simba began looking for universities where he could get his degree in accounting. (photo: Simba as a 5th grader in Bulawayo).
Applying for the dream
Access to the internet back in the early 1990’s was not widespread in Zimbabwe, which led to Simba conducting research at the library, looking through notebooks that listed American universities and areas of study.
Simba applied to several schools in the U.S. in his determination to find a suitable university. He researched and applied almost weekly to various universities. With no response from a university, Simba finished school in Zimbabwe and decided to go to England and stay with his cousin. While traveling Europe, taking odd jobs to make ends meet, and waiting to hear from a university, the day finally came. He received his acceptance letter to an American university.
Simba, second from left, with his mom and dad and younger brother on a family vacation in Africa.
Central Michigan University gave him the acceptance he had been searching for. They were the first university to accept him, and he took this as a sign from above that it was the school for him. He rushed home, secured his education visa, packed his bags, and hugged his family goodbye.
After nearly 30 hours of flying, the pilot announced over the intercom, “Look out your windows!” That is when he saw it - the Statue of Liberty. Simba had never seen anything like it except in pictures and movies. He recalls the excitement he felt seeing it, and the beautiful city of New York. This was the America he had always imagined. Everything in this moment was larger than life.
After getting through customs, Simba boarded a much smaller plane to Michigan. As they were arriving, the pilot announced over the intercom (again), “Look out your windows!” There, on the tarmac, was Air Force One. It just so happened that President Bill Clinton was in town to personally congratulate the MSU basketball team for winning the NCAA championship. What an exciting time for a young man from Zimbabwe. First the sights of New York, and now to see Air Force One.
That excitement quickly faded when Simba exited the airplane. He saw white flakes falling from the sky. Having never seen snow, and this being January in Michigan, he was hit with a shock of cold. At the time, young Simba, with his dreadlocks, had only a light leather jacket. He found himself completely unprepared to manage in this weather. After a three-hour drive, he finally arrived in the heart of Michigan. Mt. Pleasant appeared to be a much smaller town than the one he left in Zimbabwe. The shock of the snow, and the added shock of not seeing many others like him, set him into a panic. Where was the big city he was expecting? Where were the high-rise buildings and taxi cabs? Where were all the other people who looked like him? After settling in at the university, the international liaison gave him his first instructions: go out and buy some warm clothes. He went straight to Meijer’s department store and bought a jacket suitable for the Michigan cold.
It was now summertime, and many of the students in the dorms had gone home for break. The students who remained on campus were moved into a couple of buildings. It was here that he crossed paths with the dorm receptionist. He was immediately taken with her beauty. Millie was a young student from northern Michigan, and she was certainly not interested in dating this young man from Zimbabwe. Night after night, Simba made his way down to the receptionist desk to talk to Millie. In time, his persistence paid off, and they started dating.
After graduating, Simba obtained his work visa, and they moved to California. They were married a few years later, and Simba transitioned from a work visa to a green card by marriage. That marriage brought two beautiful children, Liam, born in 2011, and Autumn, born in 2013. Millie felt they should move back to Michigan to be closer to her family. They moved back, and she found a job working with children with autism and developmental disabilities. Simba took time off to stay home and help their kids transition to their new surroundings.
Building the forever dream
They bought their first home in 2015, which was an exciting time for Simba. It was an opportunity to live the American dream and have a place for his family to call home. A year later, he felt it was time to rejoin the workforce. He joined the Amerifirst family in November 2016, attracted to the company’s culture, mission, and values. In his position as a professional development learning consultant, Simba says he most enjoys collaborating with people who share a common vision and live the company values. That, he says, is what keeps him here and smiling. In 2018, the couple welcomed their third child Vera.
Simba could have received his citizenship three years after being married. However, he was always hesitant to give up his Zimbabwean citizenship because his mother still lived there. If something were to happen to her, not having his citizenship could potentially be an issue when trying to oversee matters. With the previous administration, there was a strain on foreign relations. The possibility of having his green card revoked and being sent back to Zimbabwe without his wife and children was far too much for him to bear.
Simba started the naturalization application process. In time, he received word that his application for citizenship was progressing, and he had his citizenship interview. A few weeks after the interview, Simba received confirmation that he had an appointment to be sworn in as an American citizen.
Continuing to smile
The day he was waiting for was finally here: January 20, 2022. That morning, Simba woke up early to get his children ready for school and then set out for the three-hour drive to Detroit. Due to Covid, only those participating in the oath ceremony were allowed to attend. He, along with several other future Americans, entered the room. At the end of the ceremony, the words said by the judge still stick with him. “Welcome home. You are now an American citizen.” At that moment, he found himself looking around to see if anyone else had tears of joy. He could feel them coming down his face. He remembers feeling joyful. He remembers feeling relieved and happy, knowing he would always be welcome to stay in this country with his family.
Simba says that he has always felt more American than Zimbabwean because he has been here for over 20 years and started his life with his family here. Now, he can
honestly say he is an American. He is finding new joys every day and is experiencing several rights of citizenship for the first time that many of us take for granted. He recently registered to vote for the first time.
Simba still has that smile, and he continues to find new and exciting reasons to be happy.