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Refugee Dream Center founder Omar Bah to run for Congress

“This is the best time to bring in a voice of diversity, a voice of the immigrant community,” said Bah, who would be the first Black US congressman from Rhode Island.

Omar Bah, founder of the Refugee Dream Center in Providence, plans to run for Congress.Handout

PROVIDENCE — Omar Bah, a torture survivor and refugee from The Gambia who founded The Refugee Dream Center in Providence, plans to run for Congress.

A long list of current and former public officials are thinking of running for Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District seat now that US Representative James R. Langevin, a Democrat who has been in office 22 years, has announced he won’t seek re-election this year.

Bah would bring a different background to the race, having never run for public office but having worked as a journalist, a community organizer, and a psychologist focused on trauma survivors. If elected, he would be the first Black congressman from Rhode Island.


Bah, a Democrat who lives in Providence, on Saturday told the Globe he is “definitely” running.

“This is the best time to bring in a voice of diversity, a voice of the immigrant community,” he said. “I would bring an alternative voice, from outside the political world, as an immigrant, a Black male, a Muslim, and a refugee. I think there are a lot of thoughts that the mainstream may not know about. I could make a difference in Congress.”

Bah, 42, grew up in one of the poorest parts of The Gambia, a country of 2.1 million people in West Africa. He worked at a newspaper, covering the courts, and when he tried to report on a secret trial at a military barracks in 2001, soldiers beat him until he lost consciousness and stuffed him into a closet-sized cell. Public pressure resulted in his release.

Bah resorted to writing for an online publication using a pseudonym. But the president’s intelligence agents hacked into the website, discovering he was behind hard-hitting stories, and he narrowly escaped the country alive.

After arriving in the United States in 2007, he became a US citizen in 2012, and in 2015 he founded the Refugee Dream Center, a nonprofit post-resettlement refugee organization based on Broad Street in Providence. Recently, the center has been helping to welcome Afghan evacuees to Rhode Island following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in August.


“I brought nothing to America except my body,” Bah said. “I got everything from America, so participating in the civic world is a duty. That is why I am running.”

He earned a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from the University of Rhode Island, a master’s degree in public administration from Roger Williams University, a master’s degree in counseling psychology and a doctorate in leadership psychology from Williams James College in Boston.

“Our nation is divided and needs a lot of healing,” Bah said. “My background in psychology and trauma can help in bringing a sound voice of unity and healing.”

He said he lived in Providence’s Mount Pleasant and Elmhurst neighborhoods, in the 2nd Congressional District, for 10 years. He recently moved to Charles Street in Providence, in the 1st Congressional District, but would move back if elected.

Langevin, 57, has represented the 2nd Congressional District since 2001. He was the first quadriplegic elected to Congress, having been accidentally shot in a police locker room when he was 16. He previously served as a state representative and Rhode Island’s secretary of state.

Former state Representative Robert B. Lancia, a Cranston Republican who lost to Langevin in 2020, is running for the 2nd Congressional District seat again this year. But he may soon have lots of company in the race.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.