My name is Felix Hagenimana and I am a legal intern at the ACLU of Maine.

I was born in Rwanda, Africa. As a young boy growing up in Rwanda, I became a witness, and survivor, of one of the most horrific genocides the world has ever seen. During this genocide, close to one million people were killed. But I was lucky enough to survive.

As I was growing up and facing new challenges of the day, I found myself dreaming of a life in a distant land where I would go to bed without worrying about waking up one morning and have to tell my children that this might be the day that they would be killed. I still remember such words from my uncle, who in the morning of April 07, 1994 had to wake us up to inform us that he was afraid that our neighbors were coming to kill us. Being the naïve optimistic child, I thought that this was not possible. But this uncle was indeed killed on that same day-solely because of his ethnicity.

Throughout the ages, America has held itself up as a beacon for justice, opportunity and equality for all. Indeed, this was the reason I decided to come America in 2011. When I got here, this country embraced me-just as it did for many millions of other people. I got a minimum wage job in San Francisco. I did not want to do this job for the rest of my life. I used the money I was making to pay for my tuition at an affordable college. I was able to get my bachelors degree. During this same time, I was volunteering for a legal aid agency that helped immigrants like myself get legal status in the US. I loved these people. I was moved and humbled by many of their sad stories.

Again I found myself dreaming of a better way to use my life to help those who are less fortunate. This is how I embarked on a journey to seek a law degree. I am now in my last year at Maine Law pursuing my JD. Maine embraced me and gave me a shot-even though I was still learning English and going to school.

Now I am excited to begin an internship with the ACLU of Maine. The values that ACLU stands for are values that made me want to come to America in the first place. This organization has done so much for this country in terms of civil and human rights. Unfortunately, much of this work is being dismantled, which is why I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to intern at the ACLU of Maine at this particular time. I feel like any small thing I can do to help this organization helps make America remember what it should stand for: justice, equality and opportunity for all.

I wrote earlier that when I was a child in Rwanda I was a naïve optimist. While I no longer consider myself naïve, I am, and always will be, an optimist. With the work that ACLU Maine and other advocates are doing, I have no doubt that this country will continue to live up to its ideals.