My parents came to the United States from Ghana when I was 3 years old. They first settled in Greensboro, North Carolina, where my mother, a compassionate, hardworking woman, and my father, a headstrong disciplinarian, represented a sense of identity and heritage for me.
While my undocumented status prevented me from voting for change this fall, I urged everyone who could to cast a ballot.
By the time I was 6 and we'd relocated to Worcester, Massachusetts, I had already begun to realize the limitations I faced because I was undocumented. When I was 15 years old, my grandfather died, and I couldn't travel to Ghana to attend his funeral. A year later my grandmother died and eight years after that my aunt, both without my family there to bury them.
As a result, I felt more and more disconnected from family in Ghana and isolated from the world. Later on, I was forced to forgo my top choices for colleges because of federal and other aid limitations on undocumented students. I couldn't maintain long-term employment, own a car or rent an apartment.
Even so, against these odds, I was able to achieve major accomplishments. I graduated cum laude with a bachelor's degree in mass communications from Alcorn State University, an HBCU in Mississippi, and then obtained my master's degree in community development from Clark University in Massachusetts.
My sense of self-worth, however, diminished as I watched friends and colleagues from the sidelines as they reached milestones in their lives, like career growth, homeownership, marriage, trips around the world. All the while, my growth and potential were limited by my inability to move legally through the world.
This all changed in 2012, when President Barack Obama instituted DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). The program granted protections from deportation and two-year renewable work permits to roughly 700,000 people who had come to the U.S. as undocumented immigrants when they were children. The executive order also allowed DACA recipients like me to travel in and out of the country.
For the first time in years, I felt a sense of relief. I would finally be able to provide for myself, contribute to my community and, most of all, travel (relatively) freely.
Unfortunately, the safety and freedom were cut short in 2017, when the Trump administration terminated the DACA program, throwing DACA recipients, our families and our loved ones back into uncertainty, despite overwhelming support for the DACA program across the political spectrum.
Though the courts have so far stalled the end of DACA, Trump spent the last three years trying to convince me that I am not a part of the fabric of this country. And yet, I have done what many undocumented (and documented) people do: started a family, worked hard and perfected my craft as a songwriter.
Motivated by a newfound appreciation for the music of my homeland, I set out to reconnect with it. I taught myself how to engineer vocals and improved my writing.
My efforts to define myself outside of my right to move freely proved fruitful in the spring of 2019, when I was afforded the chance to work with and write two songs for Beyoncé on her Grammy-nominated album "The Gift." This opportunity reminded me of who I am: an educated, diligent and talented African man. I work hard, like my father. And I love my family, like my mother.
While my undocumented status prevented me from voting for change this fall, I urged everyone who could to cast a ballot. I was cautiously optimistic when President-elect Joe Biden announced that one of his first acts in office would be to sign an executive order extending DACA so that Dreamers can stay in America and that a top priority of his administration will be to pass legislation to enshrine these protections permanently in the law.
But it is not just the Dreamers who need to be allowed to stay. There are 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. right now. Eleven million undocumented immigrants who have heard the speeches and promises of legislation in hope that the first 100 days of a new Biden administration will match those words with action. Eleven million people are praying for a solution that allows them to plan for the future without limitation.
It is no secret that our immigration system is antiquated for addressing the challenges of the modern world. Biden and his vice president-elect, Kamala Harris, herself the daughter of immigrants, have an opportunity to re-establish the humanity of an entire generation of creatives like me, of doctors, lawyers, engineers, biochemists, change agents, politicians and philanthropists, of mothers and fathers, aunties and uncles, brothers and sisters, and friends.