GITAHI: I'm extremely hopeful about [this new administration]. It's almost like what happened in 2008, when Obama was elected. The day he was inaugurated, that's sort of how I'm feeling. Given where we've been in the past four years, that's how I'm feeling today. My hope is that we will start to put out some of the fires that have been stoked over the past four years. And my hope is that we will start to really come together and figure out what our differences are, because we have a lot of shared experience. There are people hurting on both sides, and I think a part of that way forward is recognizing our shared experiences. And I think this administration has some good plans for the first 100 days. So I'm very hopeful about that.

NUNES: You told me previously that you think America is the underdog now. What did you mean by that?

GITAHI: I think our reputation has been tarnished, and I think other countries don't view us as the model for everything anymore. I'm not sure if they ever did. But we certainly thought that. When it comes to the COVID, for example, I know other countries have done it better. When it comes to national security, when it comes to race relations, when it comes to economic progress, I don't feel like we can claim that we do it best. And, so, what I think we need to do is to learn from other countries, because some countries have been doing things better for a long time.

NUNES: You are an immigrant from Kenya. You first arrived here as a kid. I'm wondering how your perceptions of America have evolved over time.

GITAHI: I've thought about this question, and I think that we were very naive, as a family coming here, because we thought that this country was: you could define it in one way and that's that it's a land of promise. And then you move here, and there was suddenly this understanding of our race, even though we'd never had to think about it. You know, most of the issues have had to do with race: so the biases and preconceptions when people come across people of color, and especially men of color in this country. We are just Black man. Like that. That's kind of where the buck stops.

NUNES: What do you see as a consequence of that, that being a Black man is, like you said, the ultimate distinguishing characteristic.

GITAHI: I think it strips away my individuality. I think I have a lot to offer, but that's not always apparent, when I'm being categorized as just one type of person, despite how different I might be. Despite how different my interests might be from the next Black man, I am sort of just considered the same. And I wish that people would look beyond and see that it's really a unique person here, just like everyone else is unique.

NUNES: You're a member of a group called Toward an Antiracist South Kingstown. What do you want to see smaller communities like South Kingstown doing to promote progress in this area?

GITAHI: The changes that we want to see are changes that address the injustices that we've seen in the schools, in the school education, the fact that it doesn't represent all members of society, that it teaches a sort of whitewashed kind of education. Even though, like history, for example: there's white history, and then there's history of people of color, which was happening simultaneously. But they choose to tell one story and not the next, and that's an injustice. Or the way that they hire staff that doesn't represent the diversity that's in the school. Or the discipline policies and the fact that they're not equitable. I'd also like to see the town work on the business side of things and invest in more small businesses, especially the ones that are owned by people of color, and make it possible for people of color to establish businesses here, because I think that would be good for the economy. It also would be good for a diversity of business and business offerings.

NUNES: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was earlier this week, and I know from speaking with you before that you're a great admirer of Dr. King. How does his message influence the way you're living your life today and the activism that you're doing?

GITAHI: His teachings revolve around the issue of having courage and doing the right thing. And so I try to wake up thinking that every day, even though sometimes not doing the right thing is the easier thing to do, or not doing anything at all is the easier thing to do. He also talked about how the universe is on the side of justice, and that is a hopeful message. The universe is on the side of justice, because it means that no matter how hard things might be, when we're sort of organizing around issues, in the end, there will be justice. So it's like a faith, and it's something that keeps us going. It's something that keeps me going.

NUNES: Mwangi Gitahi, thank you very much for speaking with me.

GITHAI: Thank you very much, Alex. It's been a pleasure talking to you. Thanks for having me.

Alex Nunes can be reached at anunes@thepublicsradio.org.