By William C. Shelton
Will Mbah, a Woods Avenue resident, has announced his candidacy for Alderman at Large. His background is unique among modern aldermanic candidates.
It involves a circuitous journey from a West African household of modest means to advocating for economic development and affordable housing in New England’s densest city. Yet its elements of hope, endurance, and determination are common among generations of immigrants who settled in Somerville over the past two centuries.
Mr. Mbah won admission to the University of Buea in his native Cameroon. When he wasn’t working hard at his studies and supporting himself, he advocated for student rights.
Upon graduation he received a scholarship for an Environmental Science Master’s Degree program in Sweden. Since the scholarship did not cover living expenses, he worked in a series of jobs throughout graduate school, including one in which he was paid, per-seedling, to plant trees.
He immigrated to the U.S. in 2010, seeking economic opportunity and political freedom, as had so many before him. And as had so many, he fell in love with Somerville and its welcoming people.
He took whatever job he could find, eventually securing an unpaid internship with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. Spending his days there, he worked the graveyard shift as an MIT custodian.
One evening while reading on a computer and waiting for his shift to begin, he was asked by an MIT administrator if he were “the IT. guy.” He demurred, but offered assistance. The ensuing conversation, and those that followed, led to the position in which he now works, inspecting laboratories and equipment for hazards, and training personnel.
He became a U.S. citizen in 2015. The following year, he and his wife Christelle, an asset manager for the state housing finance authority, welcomed their first child, Joel.
But as with so many here, finding an affordable place to live has been a continual challenge. He helped advocate for the zoning ordinance that increased the proportion of affordable units required in new residential developments.
He also serves on the board of East Somerville Main Streets. Concerns about economic development and affordable housing are what motivated him to run for office.
His campaign’s kickoff event will be on March 16, 6:00 p.m., at Aeronaut Brewing Company, 14 Tyler Street.