Abusana Michael Bondo – known to many as “Micky” – fled her homeland of Zaire (later renamed Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1996 with her husband, Dr. Mvita D. M’bambi, and children to escape the First Congo War. At the time she did not realize that, along with losing a homeland, she was also losing a career in scientific research. Now, twenty-two years later and well-established in Maine after overcoming significant hurdles, Micky has announced her candidacy for school board in District 1 in Portland. She has collected signatures, met the deadline for declaring candidacy, and will be on the ballot in the November elections. Micky says she “loves Maine” and wants to give back to her adopted state. “I am here to give back, and not just take. Education is key to the economic success of Portland and the state of Maine, and I am well-positioned to help Portland by serving on the school board,” she says.
Born to a French and Lingala-speaking family in Kinshasa, Micky Bondo received a fine education because her father, a journalist and politician, believed strongly in the enormous value of education. He encouraged his daughter not only to go to college but to continue to graduate school as well. After completing a master’s degree in biochemistry, she landed a job doing research on sickle cell disease. She had worked in a scientific lab for fifteen years and started a family when the war broke out that would change her life forever.
After fleeing DRC, the family settled first in Atlanta, Georgia, where Micky’s husband had a job lined up in his field, which was agriculture. During the initial adjustment period in Atlanta, Micky learned that her scientific training and degree were not ever going to be recognized in the United States. So, she spent time working at McDonald’s for $4.75 an hour, “…flipping the best hamburger anyone could ever make!” she remembers. There were days when Micky despaired, wondering if she should return to Africa, where she could use her education. However, Micky’s father had always taught her that “with knowledge, and an education, no matter what happens you can stand up on the world stage and perform.”
Micky decided to think strategically about her situation. She looked around at the job market in Atlanta and figured out what jobs were earning the best wages. Then she went back to school, entering at the associate degree level. She studied for two years, one year in business administration, and one year in education. After she got her associate degree she was hired by Your Dekalb Farmers Market, where she worked for twelve years. Her ability was quickly
recognized and she was promoted to an important managerial position.
The banking crash of 2007 hit the South very hard, and once again Micky and her family were forced to take stock and change course. Family friends who lived in Maine urged them to consider Portland. They looked at a map, found Maine, learned there was a French-speaking population in Portland, and decided to give it a try. Once again, Ms. Bondo found herself in search of a good job that would use her education. Having volunteered extensively in the Atlanta schools, navigated the school system on behalf of her five children for years, and studied education, she decided to put that background to use. She understood that she was uniquely positioned to help Portland assist its newcomer students and parents in working with the school system. She began by helping as an interpreter and translator in the school system.
Currently she is a Parent Lead Organizer at Portland Empowered, an initiative of the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine, funded by the Nellie Mae Foundation. Portland Empowered develops alliances and creates programs designed to bridge gaps between Portland’s public schools and newcomer families and students. According to the website, Lead Organizers are critical ambassadors who are able to make connections between schools and other parents or community members, some of whom do not speak English or have had minimal access to education. Ms. Bondo has also worked at Portland Public Schools’ Multilingual and Multicultural Center as an interpreter and translator, is on the board of Opportunity Alliance, has been involved with United Way and Thrive2027, and is the co-founder – with Claudette Ndayininahaze – of In Her Presence, an immigrant-led organization for immigrant women.
Micky Bondo looks forward to what she could accomplish on the school board. “I’d like to help bring issues and diverse groups of people to the table in order to strengthen the city’s effort toward closing the gap between schools and parents.” Her specialization is newcomer parents, but she wants to work on behalf of all children and parents. “There is a lot to be done in Maine,” she says. “We need to develop a strong coalition of people – bring voices together – use all the skills and expertise of parents, administrators, teachers, non-profit organizations, and volunteers to better the schools, which will, in turn, strengthen Portland.”
Her key goals include: expanding universal PreK programs so that all children are prepared for elementary school; increasing diversity of the teaching staff so that immigrant children see more people like themselves in the schools; and developing programs that will help encourage more involvement of immigrant parents at parent-teacher conferences and in the school system generally. “After all the incredible sacrifices Portland immigrant parents have made to get their children to this city and into school, they need to come to the table to make sure the children succeed at school,” says Micky. “Children need the involvement of their parents in the schools, especially in the teenage years. The schools can’t do it alone. Parents must be at the decision-making table.”
She points to the reasons immigrant parents often don’t get involved in the schools. Many work multiple jobs, need to spend inordinate amounts of time on transportation, can’t communicate because of language barriers, are traumatized because of the suffering they experienced back home, are unable to navigate systems like the Infinite Campus online grading platform or proficiency-based grading, are involved in asylum claims, might not have had a good education themselves, or haven’t yet developed the mindset that students must plan for higher education in order to eventually secure a job that earns more than the minimum wage. “Parents must use their skills and abilities to overcome challenges. It’s up to each person,” says Ms. Bondo. “If elected, I know I won’t be a superhero.” However, she believes that her experience and knowledge could do a great deal to help Portland’s schools close the gap between the schools and the immigrant community. The election will be November 6.