Wilmot Collins: From Liberian Refugee to Montana Mayor

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By Feathered Pipe Foundation - Andy Vantrease. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Wilmot Collins is the Mayor of Helena, Montana, and in 2017, he made headlines as the first black elected official in Montana’s state history. Born in Liberia, West Africa, he and his wife fled the country when a dangerous civil war erupted, killing 250,000 people—including two of his brothers—and displacing over a million more.

After navigating immigration programs for nearly three years and a string of divinely-orchestrated events, Wilmot finally settled in the small town of Helena in 1994, where he raised his two children and has held positions with Intermountain Children’s Home, Alternative Youth Adventures, Montana Department of Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs Montana and more. Wilmot has also served in the Army National Guard and Navy Reserves and is active on the boards of United Way, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance.

I sat down with Mayor Collins at the Feathered Pipe Ranch to talk about his early life, growing up in Firestone, Liberia, working on his parents' chicken farm, riding motorcycles with his brothers and the story of how he met his wife at a bus stop of the local college. We shared many, many tears as he walked me through the unbelievable circumstances that he has survived, a barrage of hurdles, one after the next, that nearly defeated him on his path to freedom and reconnection with his family.

I feel so lucky to have Wilmot Collins in a leadership position in Helena, the town that our Feathered Pipe Ranch community has called home for the last 46 years. Someone who sits down for an interview and says, “Ask me anything. I’m an open book.” Someone who isn’t afraid to show his heart, his emotions, his journey. That’s who I want mediating and making decisions. Because he brings his whole self and that inherently gives people permission to do the same.

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