CEDAR RAPIDS — By the time Mugisha Gloire arrived in Cedar Rapids at age 10 in 2000, the Congo refugee was used to seeing fear and anxiety in his relatives.
Though some of the vivid memories they retained didn’t stick with him after the Rwandan genocide, the subconscious anxiety always did. By 1996, the First Congo War, known as Africa’s First World War, forced his family to flee to nearby Tanzania.
“There are lots of stories. My mom carrying me in the pot and everyone carrying whatever they could grab in their hand. Hiding in the bushes as we were running away. Stuff like that,” Gloire said. “There was always this sense of fear, but I didn’t know what it was.”
Even after the 10-year-old gained his bearings and learned English in Cedar Rapids, that anxiety stayed with him. By age 11 or 12, he knew his mindset was different. As other kids played on the playground, he studied the bugs and shepherded them around the grass.
And as he came into his own, his upbringing as a refugee gave him a distinctive sense of empathy. With his faith central to his determination to succeed not just for himself but for others, he practices the Golden Rule in a slightly different way. He doesn’t just do unto others as he would have them do unto him — he gives to others as generously as he can.
“There’s always been this sense of wanting to help,” he said. “I just had this desire of connecting with people and helping them.”
Growing up, he thought being a helper meant becoming a doctor. As a junior in high school, he became a certified nursing assistant. Later in 2018, he became a licensed practical nurse.
With two rungs on the way to more steps in the profession, he kept wanting to do more to make a difference. As being a doctor came more into focus, he realized how little time doctors actually spend with patients.
Meanwhile, he reconciled the idea of how he could help others rather than just working a career for personal gain — something he struggled to understand.
So after becoming an LPN, instead of climbing the ladder in the medical field, he started United We March Forward, a nonprofit that helps immigrants reach their full potential through long-term relationship building and resources in a community-minded setting. There, his role isn’t just helping with the immediate needs for each individual — it’s helping immigrants and refugees find their path.
Many immigrants see the opportunity for success in America, he said, but they can’t outline their path to it.
Today, Gloire says that most immigrants and refugees are surviving — not thriving. Delivering a sense of belonging and purpose can mean the difference between the two.
With a goal of filling in the gaps not provided through other nonprofits in a patchwork of resources for immigrants, Gloire’s nonprofit stands out with one goal: to foster communities, more than serving individuals in a community. The difference between a goal and finding a path to that goal lies in relationships.
“ (Nonprofits) might be providing the service, but we’re not helping the underlying problem,” said Gloire, 31. “When everyone can do the best that they can, it’s better for our community. … They feel there’s ownership to that community.”
With his wife, Kasasila, he continues to build relationships that will outlast jobs and services.
With almost all of the nonprofit’s funding sourced privately, being the executive director of a nonprofit has its perks. Gloire is well connected to 320 client families, the majority of them African, who invite him to the social events in their lives.
Amassing wealth is not one of the benefits the director has found since leaving the path to becoming a physician or even a nurse, where he made more while working less. For Gloire, fulfilling a calling to help his community came at a cost.
But after surviving a move from Africa, a year of homelessness and hunger as a young adult, he’s realized there are things more valuable than money.
“Being able to make an impact is more meaningful than chasing money … whether it’s known or not,” Gloire said. “Many people came before me and they’re all underground. So how am I different?”
As the immigration landscape of Cedar Rapids evolves, community will become even more central to finding a formula for success that works no matter where a newcomer is from. He’s most proud of giving his clients a sense of purpose.
“I’m not just some dude telling them what to do,” he said. “I’m someone they can look at as part of the community, someone they can rely on.”
Gloire’s path to success was finding hope in helpless situations. Now, his life’s mission is instilling hope through community — the currency he knows has the power to propel immigrants to their dreams.
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