Class of 2016: Rebuma Kedir

Rebuma Kedir’s faith left him living on the streets

After that first night sleeping in the park, Rebuma Kedir flicked grass off his jeans and bits of leaves from his short dreadlocks and went to school like any other day. He attended Advanced Placement physics and the rest of his classes, then walked to the Audelia Road Library where he finished his homework. When it closed, he returned to his spot among the trees, under the stars, where he prayed, on his own terms.

It went on like this for a few days. His sister, a fellow senior, Rohda, brought him clean clothes and cried when she saw him.

His mom visited the school office once after he left home for good, to make sure he was OK and in class.

“I haven’t heard anything [from her] since then,” he says in a soft voice that seems to quiet further when discussing painful topics.

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Rebuma, who says he never knew his biological father, was a young child when he went to live with his grandmother in Ethiopia.

Three years ago his mother invited him to live in Dallas with her and her fiancé. He came, for a better education and more opportunities.

His English needed polishing, but he worked hard — now he makes A’s and is a member of the National Art Honor Society.

He joined AVID, a college preparation program that he says changed his life for the better.

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“Not only with getting into college, but it helped my self-esteem and communicating with people,” he says.

While many his age keep parents awake at night with worry, Rebuma did everything right, it seemed.

But religious differences with his mom’s fiancé, a strict Muslim, led to insurmountable problems at home.

“I was born Muslim, yes, but I was raised by my grandmother who was an orthodox Christian,” Rebuma says.

His grandmother never pushed him into any religion. She just loved him, cared for him and lived in a manner that appealed to him. So at 13, he decided he was what she was, a Christian.

But his mother’s husband-to-be made clear that everyone in the household was expected to follow Islamic tradition. He made it a point to tell Rebuma and his sister stories about his one relative who had rejected Islam — her loved ones, even her parents, had shunned her. The message was clear: If the Kedir children did not comply, the same would happen to him.

Rebuma Kedir, Class of 2016. Photo by Danny Fulgencio
Rebuma Kedir, Class of 2016. Photo by Danny Fulgencio

“I went along with it at first,” Rebuma says. For two years he studied the Quran and recited requisite ritual prayers.

But then his grandmother died, devastating him. In his pain, he longed more than ever for the comfort he found in her Christian faith.

It is clear from the catch in his throat when he speaks of her that he desperately misses her.

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He sees now that she bestowed on him a gift — of both spirituality and choice — that he wants to reclaim.

“I am happy with my decision,” says Rebuma, though it cost him his home.

Today he lives at Promise House, a shelter for young adults located in North Oak Cliff.

Even during the most turbulent times, he seemed not to miss a beat academically, says guidance counselor Culus Williams.

“Most of us would be crazy if this happened to us,” Williams says. “But he just takes it in stride, like, ‘OK, this is where I live now. It’s OK. It’s OK’ — that’s what he always says to us [counselors], no matter what. He is amazing.”

Rebuma says his grades did suffer. “I didn’t make straight A’s that semester,” he notes. (Williams responds with a speechless head shake as if to say, “see what I mean.”)

When students at LHHS are facing risk or turmoil, they are encouraged to contact Communities in Schools (CIS), a nonprofit organization with offices in 77 area schools. That’s what Rebuma did. When he explained his situation, he says LHHS leaders sprung into action.

CIS staffers Marcus Taylor and Yvonda Akers; his counselor, Williams; and his AVID instructors Rebecca Wood, Pamela Gayden and Matthew Morris, rallied together to find him a safe place to sleep that night.

“He went for days sleeping in the park and getting dressed and brushing his teeth in the school restrooms. He didn’t tell anyone and, looking at him, you never would have known,” says Akers. “I asked him why he waited so long to tell us. He only came to us after it started raining and he said he thought about the weather getting cold and knew he would need some kind of shelter. He is not the kind of kid who asks for anything. But he is grateful for everything.”

He leaves Promise House around 6 a.m. each weekday and always arrives at campus early. He works 20-hour weeks at a Taco Cabana near the shelter. On Sundays he rises early and rides the buses to his church in Garland.

He has been accepted to several universities. He chose University of Texas at San Antonio, whose recruiter was exceptionally responsive and helped him apply for financial aid, he says.

“I can’t wait to graduate,” he says. He plans to study engineering. But first, he will spend the summer working and saving.

Fittingly, he says it is prayer that keeps him feeling strong even when the loneliness from the loss of his family bonds feels overwhelming. When he sees his sister, with whom he is still close, he suggests she do the same.

“I say I don’t care what god she is praying to. Pray to whatever god you want. Don’t ever let anyone push you into something you don’t want to be.”

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