Department of Neighborhoods

Press Release

Houstonian Honored by White House at “Welcoming Week” Celebration
Welcoming Week kickoff celebrates refugee voices, promotes refugee integration

September 15, 2016 -- The White House today hosted “Welcoming Refugees: Honoring Refugee Integration and Refugee Voices,” an event celebrating the contributions that refugee leaders are making in their respective communities across the nation. 
The event honored nine refugees representing Welcoming America communities recently recognized by the White House as a "Bright Spot in Welcoming and Integration," including Houston.

Among those honored was Houstonian Binyam Gebrehewet, a refugee from Eritrea who resettled in Houston in 2006. Gebrehewet was nominated by the Alliance for Multicultural Community Services for his tireless dedication to helping refugees succeed in their new environment and for his accomplishments as a successful business entrepreneur who inspires others to reach for the American Dream.  [See Gebrehewet’s bio and photo below.]

“The City of Houston is proud to name Binyam Gebrehewet for this honor bestowed by the White House,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “He is deserving of this recognition as a Houstonian who has experienced firsthand the challenges that refugees face and has stepped up to give his fellow citizens a helping hand. As the founder of a growing trucking business, his story tells of the fulfillment that comes through hard work, determination and support from the community.”   

Today's event coincides with the start of Welcoming Week, which runs September 16-25, led by Welcoming America, a nonprofit organization. The national celebration highlights the contributions that refugees make to the country’s social, cultural and economic fabric. According to the U.S. Bureau of Public Affairs, the U.S. has welcomed more than 3.2 million refugees representing more than 70 nationalities over the past 40 years. 

This year’s Welcoming Week events also call public attention to President Barack Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis on the margins of the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly, scheduled to take place on September 20, 2016. 

For more information about Welcoming Week, visit http://www.welcomingweek.org.

Houston – A Welcoming City
The City of Houston is a member of Welcoming America and the White House’s Building Welcoming Communities Campaign.  Houston was recently recognized by the White House as a “Bright Spot in Welcoming and Integration” for its innovative initiatives and partnerships addressing language access, outreach services, cultural diversity, civic engagement and community leadership participation in city affairs.  The city’s immigrant and refugee affairs are administered by the Department of Neighborhoods Office of International Communities.  To learn more, visit http://www.houstontx.gov/oic.

White House Honoree Binyam Gebrehewet - Bio Notes
Binyam GebrehewetBinyam Gebrehewet arrived in the U.S. as an aslyee and refugee from Eritrea in 2006.  In Eritrea, Binyam’s family owned a trucking business. Shortly after resettling in Houston, Binyam took a $15,000 loan from the Alliance for Multicultural Community Services through the agency’s Refugee Micro-Enterprise Program to buy his first tow truck. Because of the success of his enterprise, he was able to repay his loan in full and in 2008 purchased an eighteen-wheeler.  By 2010, Binyam’s company was so successful that he was able to purchase a second truck, rent office space and employ two drivers. Today his company Bag Transport has six trucks and 21 employees. Most of his employees are refugees who have made Houston their home.

In addition to running a successful transport company, Binyam works hard to give back to the community by ensuring that newly-arrived refugees have the same chance at self-sufficiency that he had.  In 2015, Binyam’s company partnered with the Alliance to offer Commercial Driver’s License training courses to refugees and former refugees. Through his hands-on teaching approach, Binyam has helped more than 75 individuals receive their CDL licenses and gain full-time employment as commercial truck drivers, both statewide and nationwide.  The CDL training course has become one of the most successful and sought after vocational training courses offered by the Alliance and was featured on the Ethiopian Community Development Council’s website. This fall, Binyam plans to train 75 more individuals.

Binyam also works as a driver education course instructor for the Alliance’s newly-arrived clients. By teaching behind-the-wheel driver education classes, Binyam helps refugees gain self-sufficiency. A driver’s license is an essential resource for residents of a city the size of Houston, for relying on public transportation can be a disadvantage.  By obtaining a driver’s license, individuals can increase their employment opportunities and gain flexibility in scheduling appointments or attending classes. Binyam works day and night and most weekends to ensure that his students achieve their goal of obtaining a driver’s license. To date, he has helped more than 40 individuals become licensed drivers. He also serves as an interpreter and mentor for many newly-arrived refugees. 

Binyam has received public recognition for his achievements and dedication to giving back to the community. His honors include “World Refugee Day Houston” Certificates of Appreciation presented by former Houston Mayor Annise Parker and State Representative Gene Wu.

In 2014, Binyam began the reunification process to bring his son Shalom to Houston from Eritrea. Binyam’s request was eventually approved and in December 2014, after being separated for 13 years, Binyam and his son were reunited. Binyam recently married Haala Al-Saadi, a native of Iraq, and the couple welcomed their first child, Joseph, in April 2016.