Livingstone staff member earns citizenship

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 11, 2019

Submitted – Henry Mawolo

SALISBURY — At Livingstone College, there are several consistencies that students can count on — assemblies on Wednesdays; the singing of the alma mater; and Mr. Henry always having a piece of candy in his pocket.

Henry Mawolo, a towering figure with a distinct foreign accent, works in the school’s information technology department. He’s heralded as a central part of campus operations, with many calling him a big brother, a father figure, a chaperone or an ambassador.

Then there’s what he calls his “candy ministry,” when he shares candy with the purpose of helping anxious students or nervous parents at registration; staff members having a bad day; or simply someone who needs good cheer.

Last week, Mawolo added another title to his list when he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

A native of Liberia, Mawolo participated in the naturalization ceremony June 25 in Charlotte after taken a naturalization test on May 28. On Sunday, he celebrated his citizenship with his church family at Soldiers Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Salisbury. 

“It is God who makes things happen,” Mawolo said. “I am now a citizen. I am no longer an immigrant, and my church recognized me for that.”

It has been a long road from Liberia to citizenship for Mawolo. He came to America during the second civil war in Liberia and attended Livingstone College, where he received two foreign scholarships: one from Liberia and the other from the Liberian Bureau of Maritime.

Before arriving at Livingstone, there was a change in the maritime leadership and his scholarship was not honored.

“But thank God, Livingstone and the A.M.E. Zion Church were able to help me. I worked hard and diligently to pay my tuition,” he said.

Mawolo graduated in 2004 with a degree in computer information systems. After graduation, he volunteered at Livingstone, working in the library and computer lab and with residence life while holding down a part-time job elsewhere. In 2008, the college hired him to work with IT.

“Mr. Mawolo has proven to be an invaluable addition to our Livingstone College family,” said Livingstone President Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr. “He is always available to lend a hand and help whenever and wherever possible. Livingstone College is a gateway to a better life and experience for many foreign students, which mandates our mission to take students from where they are to where they need to be to command their rightful place in the global society.”

As a U.S. citizen, Mawolo now has access to privileges that were not afforded to him before.

“The main thing is that I can now vote,” he said. 

Other privileges include property and business ownership, becoming eligible for federal jobs, and other First Amendment freedoms.

Another benefit is reuniting with family members abroad. Naturalized citizens can sponsor their parents, spouses, children and siblings to live with them as permanent residents. Mawolo said he is particularly excited about this aspect.

“I can send for my son to come here to get his bachelor’s degree,” Mawolo said.

His son is in Liberia and has completed an associate degree in computer engineering.

Mawolo also has aspirations to earn a master’s degree and doctorate. “If the Lord can help me find funding sources,” he said.

Mawolo has supported his family back home, in particular a nephew who is a senior communicator at the Liberia Maritime Authority. In addition to a son, Mawolo has an adopted daughter there.

Before arriving in America, Mawolo played professional basketball with the Liberian national team, served as a lab administrator for A.M.E. Zion University and was on the Full Gospel A.M.E Zion Church board of trustees.

During the war, he helped find his basketball coach’s children, who went missing. They were relocated to a neighboring country, he said.

America and Liberia have a shared history. Liberia was founded as a result of the American Colonization Society to settle freed American slaves who voluntarily relocated. 

“The history is unique. People went back from America to Liberia to educate. What they learned here, they took there,” he said.

Liberia’s government is modeled after that of the United States. The Liberian flag looks like the American flag except it has only one star, which represents Liberia being Africa’s first independent nation, he said. 

“The United States is a country of law and order. People come here for different reasons and opportunities, such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. America protects others who are abused from other countries,” he said. 

This Fourth of July holiday was an extra special one for Mawolo. As usual, he escorted a group of Livingstone students to the Kannapolis Intimidators Stadium for fireworks.

But this year, as the national anthem played, he sang it for the first time as a U.S. citizen.

“It … resonate(d) more with me,” he said. 

Mawolo is proud of the road it took to become a citizen.

“It’s not easy to become an American,” he said. “It took years for me to become one.”