Date: March 15, 2022
When Yonathan Kebede was 13, his father was assassinated while serving for the Ethiopian military. Kebede’s family tried to flee and eventually moved to Northern Virginia for a fresh start.
Kebede moved in with his aunt’s family in Virginia. The language barrier made life difficult. In Ethiopia, Kebede used to write elaborate poems in his native Amharic, which were broadcast on a morning radio program. In the U.S., he could barely express basic thoughts. “It was suffocating,” he says. Fortunately, ESL classes offered at South Lakes in Fairfax County public school helped Kebede find his way. Eventually, he became an All-American runner at his high school and a top-ranked runner at Ohio State, where he studied civil engineering.
But his world collapsed when his mother died at the age of 47. “That broke me,” he says. “I never saw my mom after leaving Ethiopia.” As Kebede tried to make sense of his mother’s death, which doctors could not explain, he realized that her case had been mismanaged; doctors had failed to communicate with each other about basic things like coordinating her medications. This tragic oversight motivated him to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Science Management.
For the past 13 years, he has worked to improve the healthcare experience of Dayton residents, most recently as the Vice President of Operations at Miami Valley Hospital. He also joined multiple organizations such as Welcome Dayton, aimed at revitalizing Dayton through welcoming policies.
For example, when the “Muslim ban” was in effect, Welcome Dayton advocated for its reversal, explaining its negative impact on healthcare, business, and higher education. “Many of our physicians who were visiting family in Muslim-majority countries would have been banned from returning if the ban continued,” Kebede says.
The ban starkly revealed the vital role that immigrants play in Dayton healthcare.
Kebede is proud that Dayton has prioritized immigrant integration by offering services such as support for immigrant entrepreneurs and English language learners, along with increasing access to immigrant-friendly services. “Immigrants enhance the community and drive economic growth,” he says. “They play an important role as doctors and nurses, entrepreneurs, educators, and essential workers who keep our society running.”