A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Edouard Tende: Kentucky embraced me and I have thrived; now it’s time to embrace refugees

When I left the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2017, seeking refuge in the hills of Northern Kentucky, I wasn’t sure what the future held. My wife and I sought asylum here after a former business partner robbed me and threatened my life. That meant leaving our family, giving up my maintenance business and building new lives from scratch. But this was our second chance, and we vowed to seize every opportunity.

In under four years, we’ve built thriving lives here and dedicated ourselves to the community. I’ve started a business, helped revitalize local neighborhoods and become a French-language pastor at my church. I’m also helping new immigrants like myself navigate life in America so they too can integrate as well as we have. It’s why I was heartened to finally see President Biden raise the refugee resettlement cap to 62,500, up from last year’s record-low of 15,000. Once again, America can call herself a global humanitarian leader. And that’s good for us right here in Kentucky. Refugees and asylum seekers are uniquely motivated to pay it forward. We’ll do whatever it takes to support our new Old Kentucky Home.

Eduardo Tende

Our state is already fifth in the nation for refugee resettlements. Kentucky’s 31,000 refugees generate $642.7 million in income and pay $158.6 million in state, local and federal taxes, according to New American Economy. We start businesses at a higher rate than both other immigrants and native-born Americans and we fill gaps in the labor force, from healthcare to the food supply chain. Locally, many refugees work at the Amazon facility in Hebron. They risked their health daily, just like their Kentucky-born colleagues, to ensure that American families received everyday necessities through the pandemic. I know some of these workers personally. The job wasn’t always easy for them, but they knew working hard was the best way to support both themselves and their adopted community.

I feel the same way. When I arrived here, I enrolled at Cincinnati State University, earned a degree in Electro-Mechanical Engineering and Technology and started working for a local manufacturing company. I saved a little from each paycheck and eventually opened my own real estate business; I purchased empty buildings in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky and turned them into renovated apartments. My investment not only helped revitalize those neighborhoods, but the income helped our family make larger contributions.

Leveraging our own experiences, my wife and I started assisting refugees and immigrants at our church: teaching them to drive, helping them find housing and helping them fill out job and insurance applications. When our pastor saw what we were doing, he asked us to become French Pastors at Heritage Fellowship in Florence. Now I’m leading sermons in French and connecting our 200 foreign-born congregants to local resources for educational and employment opportunities. I’m also pursuing my doctorate in theology.

I have always felt welcomed in Northern Kentucky. The people here are good neighbors. They are always willing to lend a hand or offer opportunities, just as our Pastor did for us. There is land everywhere and plenty of ways to carve out whatever type of life you want to live. I came here with nothing and Northern Kentucky helped me transform into a student, entrepreneur, pastor and mentor. It gave me a home.

Now that we are again welcoming newcomers, I’m hopeful they will also find a home in the Bluegrass State. I’m hopeful my American neighbors will embrace them as you’ve embraced me. Refugees have so much to give, if only we let them.

Edouard Tende is the French Pastor at Heritage Fellowship in Florence, an entrepreneur, engineer, student and mentor to local students.

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One Comment

  1. Richard says:

    I think it would be interesting to know your thoughts on systemic racism and if it had any effect on your ability to succeed. It certainly does not sound like it from your story. Best of luck to you.

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