Christian Juru photographed in East Nashville, February, 2020 Photo: Chuck Allen

Christian Juru

“I don’t remember a specific turning point where I went from being totally Congolese to being mostly American, or where I owned more of an American identity. I feel like it just happened.”
—Christian Juru

In 2005, Christian Juru moved to Nashville from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His parents saw an opportunity for a better education and sent him and his siblings to live with family members who came to Nashville years earlier as refugees. He was 14 years old and began attending John Overton
High School.

“I was at an age where it was easy for me to adapt,” Christian says. “In ninth grade, I was in an English Language Learner class, and the second year I felt confident to take regular English classes. I was a sponge, I took in the culture, and I made it my own fairly quickly.”

Juru explains that the transition was made easier not only by his family members but also by a larger community of Congolese immigrants living in Nashville. After attending college in Alabama, he returned to Nashville and worked alongside other Congolese people through his job as a teacher in an after-school program for refugee youth at Catholic Charities
of Tennessee.

“Working at CC exposed me to different cultures and the experiences of refugees,” he explains. “I was meeting Congolese people who were refugees and had a totally different experience [coming to the U.S.] than I did. They were at a refugee camp for five, ten, fifteen years outside of the Congo before they were ever able to come to the U.S.”

Though he became eligible to vote as a citizen during Obama’s second term, he wasn’t particularly motivated to register for the 2012 election. In 2016, however, the divisive presidential election inspired him to head to the polls with a passionate understanding of how these issues he cared about linked to policies.

“There was immigration, of course,” he says, “and equality — gay rights. Those were issues I cared about, looking at both camps and seeing who was more likely to align with [my opinions on] these policies. Foreign policies, as well. What’s America’s [relationship to] other countries, primarily countries in Africa, but also all around the world?”

Juru’s adaptability between his native culture and his home in Nashville reflects a greater fascination with different cultures and parts of the earth, as well as his passion for taking care of it. Since leaving his job at Catholic Charities in 2017, he’s been working as a civil engineer in the environmental division of Tennessee Department of Transportation, making sure that roads are built sustainably with care for environmental features. But sustainability and climate change have long been interests of Juru’s.

“The first time I became interested in climate change, I was a senior in high school,” he says. “I came across this global event called Earth Hour. The point of it is to turn off your lights for one hour on a specific day (last Saturday in March usually). It brings awareness to our overall energy consumption and encourages people to take even the smallest steps to address our climate issues. I actually made videos for it and got a bunch of my friends and teachers in school to [participate.]”

He was also able to visit his family in the Congo at the end of last year, where he noted that policies are progressing rapidly under current president Felix Tshisekedi after the first peaceful transition of power since the country’s origin. As we look to the 2020 election in the States, however, Juru admits that he’s a bit unnerved.

Juru’s care for our world is what catalyzes him to engage despite the discomfort of our polarized political landscape. He reflects a sentiment held within his generation when he admits that he’s frustrated and may need to take some steps back — but ultimately he is hopeful, participating with a sense of duty and care as a citizen of the United States and the world.

“Sometimes it can get overwhelming,” he says. “So, every once in awhile I do take a step back and I don’t watch the news. I’ve compared it to a reality TV show — it’s sad to compare it to that when [these are] policies that affect our lives, they’re real things. … Maybe when it’s closer to time, I’ll plug back in and evaluate my options. I’ll definitely be voting.”

The Editor’s Statement Regarding the March|April 2020 Issue has information about where to find the print edition of this article.